Invincible Plastic?

The fact that fashion, morals and music genres directly depend on the economic and political situation has long been scientifically proven. Thus,  it is known that mini skirts appeared during an economic crisis when there was a shortage of  fabrics in Europe, the jazz style called “bebop” originated during  the intensification of the AfricanAmerican struggle for their  rights and rock music reached its peak against the backdrop of Vietnam War.

In the USSR plastic bags were an integral part of a modern image in the era  of general deficit. The first samples of this crispy packaging came into  the country thanks to  foreign tourists and farmers. The red packs of the tobacco brand  inaccessible to most citizens were  perceived as a sign of luxury. Moreover, the packages  with the images  of beautiful girls  were a sign of the exceptionality of the owner. Disposable bags were washed, dried and stored. After the Reconstruction, they became available to the public and were no longer cherished, but this gave birth to another  problem. Plastic bags flooded the landfills and garbage dumps. Trees growing along highways have been “decorated” with pieces of colourful plastic bags. On windy days packages still  fly through the streets. Complete “islands” of garbage are formed in the oceans, and even “mainlands” that are clearly seen from the satellites. The decomposition period of plastic bags is 400 years, so it’s not difficult to imagine what our planet will turn into in a few decades.

The European Union Is Struggling

In order to somehow save the nature and ecology of the planet, the European Union intends to severely restrict the consumption of lightweight plastic bags in the coming years. EU member states should ensure that  by 2025 each resident uses no more than 90 bags per year. As a reference,  the statistics  show that one Irish citizen uses an average of 14 bags per year; and the citizens of Denmark and Finland use only four. People are worried about the situation and personally take some steps  without waiting for government decisions or prohibitions. For comparison, in Georgia this figure is about  525 plastic bags. Unfortunately, it is impossible to voice any figures concerning Armenia, because no one keeps such statistics.

Our Neighbours

What is being done in the world and how in order to ease the burden of our Mother Nature? How to free it from plastic bags, disposable tableware, bottles from carbonated drinks and other harmful rubbish that take ages to decompose? Let’s have a look at our neighbours. Georgia has been gradually imposing restrictions on the use of the above mentioned household items. Since October 1, 2018, the use of thin plastic bags with a thickness of less than 15 micrometres and the import of all plastic bags have been banned.. And since April 1, a ban has been introduced on the use, production, sale and import of plastic bags. Now it is allowed to produce, import and offer customers only biodegradable bags. There is a specific  explanation to all this. The ban on plastic bags in Georgia can partly be attributed to the fact that the country is obliged to consistently apply the regulations set by the European legislation. Violators are liable to fines. First, merchants will have to pay 75 dollars for selling prohibited packages. At the same time, all the products will be confiscated. The fine for the second violation equals to 187 dollars. The next stage of the ecological control would be the rejection of disposable plastic utensils. Georgia was the first post-Soviet country to take over the plastic issue so decisively. Though malicious tongues say that all these decisions and prohibitions basically remained on paper.

The other post-Soviet states do not stand aloof  from the global anti-plastic regulations either. Since January 1, in Moldova, the use and sale of dense disposable plastic bags has been prohibited in stores. Ukraine also wants to restrict their use considerably. The Kyrgyz Ministry of Economics suggests raising money for utilization of plastic and polymer bags. All this is not new, and these ex-Soviet countries are not innovators or pioneers. All of this took place in Europe more than twenty years ago. For example, in Denmark back in 1994 a tax was introduced on the free distribution of plastic bags in shopping centres. And after imposing a fee for polyethylene in Denmark, its popularity among buyers decreased by 90 percent. In Germany, consumers pay for the utilization of bags, while sellers and distributors are responsible for collecting and recycling. In Ireland, the number of used packages has decreased by 94 percent after decreasing the prices of packages. Now they use reusable fabric bags. Thin plastic bags are banned in San Francisco (the USA). Since 2017, all French shopping centers have been banned from selling thin disposable plastic bags with or without handles. In one of the Indian states, disposable plastic is completely prohibited, including tableware. In Ethiopia and Morocco, non-degradable disposable plastic bags cannot be produced or imported from other countries. Russia is also making its first steps to combat  the negative impact that plastic has on the environment. Since January 2019, the government has banned the transport of packages  to landfills. Plastic packages have been included in the list of waste, the disposal of which is prohibited., but the document does not tell what to do with such waste either.

Paper instead of Plastic?

Many people call for replacing plastic with paper. However, this idea of paper replacement has opponents. According to Greenpeace, producing paper bags results in 70 percent more harmful substances being released into the atmosphere, and discharges into water bodies increasing by 50 times. That is why using paper bags as an alternative to plastic is not a panacea. The cheapest and simplest substitutes for packaging and carrying bags would be fabric bags and pouches. As before, when most of our readers have not even been born yet. 

What Is Going on in Our Country

Now let’s have a look at ourselves. One glance is enough to see that our streets, parks, pavements of republican roads and recreation areas are literally buried in trash. Thousands of the same packages, bottles, not to mention glass bottles, packs of cigarettes, cigarette stubs literally cover the ground. From time to time cleanups and some other actions for cleaning the territories are organised in order to clean public areas, but this is just a drop in the ocean. And that is understandable. Firstly, one-time actions cannot save the situation; secondly, after or maybe even during such actions someone somewhere may drop a bottle of cool drink on the ground without a qualm. The fact that we need a targeted and well thought out  policy against pollution is beyond doubt. True, now and then people speak up, someone suggests something and even if some useful law is adopted, its results are not visible. This is simply because the law is passed, but the mechanism for its implementation  remains unclear. So the law remains on paper.

Collect, Store, Take – Is This a way out?

Yes, lately some firms, organisations, companies have appeared that collect and recycle plastic, paper and glass. Is it good? Of course. It is a very useful and necessary job. Such organisations are encouraging people to collect this waste and hand it over. But wonderful ideas are very difficult to implement, as it usually happens. I will explain with  a specific example. A law-abiding citizen, preoccupied with ecological problems, collects plastic and glass tableware, waste paper, puts them in bags and boxes, and waits – what is next? The relevant organisation offers the following options. The first one: give us a call us and report the amount of the collected waste. And if you have collected enough of it, our courier will visit you when he has the opportunity. The second option: through  social networks,  the day,  time as well the place where the car of this organisation will drive up are announced. And then you can pack your bags and boxes with bottles, packages and waste paper and take them God knows where. This happens about once a month. That is,  keep this rubbish somewhere in your flat for a whole month and then carry them somewhere else. Not the best perspective for sure. Another option: you pay for their visit (gas costs, time and something else), and they take away the waste you have actually collected and kept for them. Why for them? Because they recycle that plastic, release from it some, again, plastic small things and make money on it. An original solution to the problem, right? Those who had been truly dedicated to the process at first, started complaining that not only do they keep and transport the collected waste, but also have to understand how to do it. They asked the representatives to at least provide them big bags for collecting and transporting the “goods”, but got a rejection. So it turns out that you have to buy a large bag, mainly used for rubbish, collect a sufficient amount of waste (to make the visit profitable for the companies), keep it in your flat about a month, then take it to the place of collection and just calmly walk away, reassuring yourself with the thought that you have done something great for Mother Nature. Of course, caring for nature is a noble cause. But as we know, only enthusiasm is not sufficient to keep even the most high-principled person long enough. How do I know such details? I have learnt this from my personal experience.

Nothing can be done as long as state structures do not take this problem seriously, large producers and non-governmental organisations do not join the fight (today NGOs have a crucial role) and strict punishment is not implemented on the citizens who pollute our streets, squares, parks and green areas. Time, money and joint efforts – this is the only key to success.

Fashion for Ecology

Here is a bright and fresh example. Ralph Lauren brand and First Mile, an organisation that helps companies produce goods from recycled waste, have released a polo collection of a special fabric made from recycled plastic. It has taken 12 bottles to make a single shirt. Besides, the company’s representative claimed that by 2025 they will rid the ocean and larger landfills of 170 million plastic bottles. In this way, and only in this way, this problem and similar problems can be solved.

Author: Armen Manukyan     © All rights reserved.

Translator: Luiza Mkhitaryan