Kathmandu does not have a proper waste management system or a recycling system. The immense amount of plastics we are using irresponsibly is sure to hamper the environment, public health and our major economic source — tourism. This does not only hamper us; it affects the world
Things have changed, a lot, since our grandfather’s time. My father recalls, “When we were your age, plastic bags had slowly started entering Nepal. Having a plastic bag was a matter of pride. At that time, just one bag was used more than a dozen times by the local people. A single plastic bag had immense value.”
Then just like in other parts of the world, in Nepal too, plastics rapidly grew in popularity and production due to its light weight, claimed reusability and cheap price. To the youths of the country today, let me ask you, “Can you imagine a world without plastics?” You probably cannot —and it’s okay. Our grandparents, at that time, probably could not have imagined plastics clogging and polluting the rivers and lands of Nepal either.
Today, just in Kathmandu, its population of about one million use 4,700,000 to 4,800,000 plastic bags daily. Moreover, 2.7 tons of plastic waste is produced daily here. Note that we are talking about the city where a ban on plastic bags less than 40 microns was imposed in 2015. Now, when we look around our Valley, river banks and landfills sites are covered with mountains of garbage — 16 per cent comprised of just plastics. Do you know how this will affect us and the whole world?
Not quite, because these plastics are not going away any soon. All the plastics ever produced are still existent and are sure to be around for the next five generations!
Plastics are non-biodegradable materials made from fossil fuels. They never go away once produced. If you burn them, you severely poison the air. If you dispose of them in rivers, they end up polluting and clogging them. If you throw them in landfills, they produce a poisonous liquid called leachate that seaps into our agricultural soil. Also, plastics can never be completely recycled — they can only be downcycled once.
Kathmandu does not have a proper waste management system or a recycling system. The immense amount of plastics we are using irresponsibly is sure to hamper the environment, public health and our major economic source — tourism.
Our irresponsibility does not only hamper us in the case of plastic pollution. It affects the world. All our polluted rivers end up in the ocean. In fact, 93 per cent of the global plastic pollution occurring now has been contributed by just 10 rivers around the world. We need to stop using plastics because although plastics seem convenient for just a moment of our day, they will create inconveniences for the many marine animals for years and years to come. It is astounding to know that by 2050, there will be more plastics in the ocean than marine animals.
So plastic pollution today has emerged as a global problem and countries across the world are trying to figure out ways to beat it. Some countries have been able to put in place some measures, but countries like Nepal have a lot to do in the fight against this menace.
Every morning before you start your day, remember choices that each one of us can make to contribute to this global problem of plastic pollution in a positive or negative way.
The one thing that I love about the people of my country these days is their growing love for local products. We have started to realise the importance of encouraging local markets and creating local employment. I mention this here because a lot of our Nepali local products have traditionally been made from biodegradable materials. They are sturdy and environmentally friendly. Rather than using those suffocating and weak plastic bags, if we become more responsive to the efforts made by our local markets, we are sure to make that investment of buying a cloth bag.
Using cloth bags means we will produce less plastic waste, which will certainly empower our tourism industry. Also, although the government has been trying to create a waste management system, it is high time that we Nepali people strengthen our own recycling habits, support local cleanup efforts and local recycling companies like Khali Sisi and Doko Recyclers.
Reducing the plastic waste that goes into the land and rivers can save many animals in our country and the whole world.
Plastic pollution should not anymore be an issue that is brought to light only on World Environment Day. Articles and activism about the importance of eliminating single-use plastic from our lives should not only be published and promoted only on June 5 but should be actively encouraged every single day. The severity of this global issue demands us to act quickly and persistently. You are responsible for the waste you produce for as long as it is there, not as long as it is not in your house. Plastics have already been banned in Kathmandu. It is the willingness and responsibility of each one of us to sincerely start implementing this law for the benefit of ourselves and the world.
As we are set to enter 2019, let’s pledge to minimal use of plastics in the New Year and in the coming years. Let’s start from here: Make a conscious effort each and every day to use one less plastic bag. This will be a good starting point to ensure that we have a world free of plastic bags.
A version of this article appears in print on December 24, 2018 of The Himalayan Times.