Editorial Comment: Let’s cut on plastics to control trash

04 Jul, 2022 - 00:07 0 Views
Editorial Comment: Let’s cut on plastics to control trash

The Herald

WHAT strikes so many on the monthly national clean-up day, and any other day when they see uncollected garbage in the streets, is how of this filth is packaging, mainly plastic packaging these days, rather than uneaten and rotting food and things like banana peel and orange rind.

This seems to have struck President Mnangagwa on Friday last week as once again he set the practical example to all Zimbabweans to clear a section of some public place of litter and dumped rubbish. 

And he is now questioning just why there is so much plastic used as packaging, and used just once, and then dumped.

Even householders who neatly pack their garbage in plastic bags, and they all bear labels saying these are made of recycled plastic, can notice that a lot of the rubbish is packaging, especially if they are keen gardeners and send the discarded parts of vegetables like carrot tops to the compost heap. 

Those of us who can remember back a few decades and compare say the 1960s with the present era will notice the explosion in plastic. There was a bit of cellophane around then, the odd bit of polythene and a lot more cardboard and glass than we see now.

Even loaves of bread were delivered with just a narrow band of paper around them and meat from the butcher came wrapped in brown paper without a plastic tray covered with a sheet of plastic.

One interesting result of that old-fashioned plastic is that it was a lot easier to get rid of. 

The glass jars and bottles were almost always recycled, with the original manufacturers offering a small sum or even refunding a deposit, and in any case every household can use more jars. 

But even if you did not want to cash in your beer bottle, there was always someone who would salvage it for a few cents.

With so much less in the way of take-aways, since people ate in the shop or tearoom rather than clutching a plastic or cardboard box and chucking it on the ground when empty, there was less of that packaging. 

But one advantage of paper and cardboard packing is that it rots easily, or at least a lot more easily than plastic, and tins rust. 

This made compressed landfill a simple option, and because the trash would soon rot, within a few years the landfill was basically solid earth and could be built on. 

One of the reasons plastic has become so ubiquitous for packaging is that it is not that expensive and, importantly, it does not rot or spoil the contents it is protecting. 

The trouble is when someone dumps it as litter, or even when it is buried in landfill, it does not rot either, or at least not in the next few decades. 

And some manufacturers seem to push their plastic use to extremes. 

It is difficult to buy a small packet of biscuits, for example, where you are not buying more plastic than food once you take into account the tray to hold the biscuits and that it is then wrapped in a sheet of plastic. 

Last Friday, after cleaning up some public mess, President Mnangagwa accepted an invitation to visit a factory which recycles plastic, ensuring that the plastic is used at least twice although the recycling will involve melting the plastic and then using the resulting pellets as the raw material for a new product.

The result of that labour of cleaning was his call for more rationality in packaging, for producers of these products to figure out ways of recycling their packaging and for everyone to figure out how to reuse more of it.

Some countries force manufacturers of beverages using throw-away plastic bottles or aluminium cans to include a small deposit. Sometimes users and drinkers keep a bag handy and then take this along when they go shopping to collect their deposits. 

Otherwise people who want to make extra money, or even some money, spend their days collecting these and then cash them in. A lot of old people in Japan on minimum pensions buy the luxuries this way.

Using less packaging strikes one as an obvious cost saver for a manufacturer. Sometimes products are packed in containers that can withstand a major car crash, when all they need is something that will get them home in one piece. 

And finally there is those formal recycling options that the President saw at the plastics factory. 

In some countries this is carried out in a grand manner. 

In many Swiss and German cities, for example, households and businesses will have five or six garbage bags in different set colours for plastic, paper and cardboard, glass, steel cans and aluminium cans, and organic garbage. 

This makes recycling easy and efficient. 

Those recycling the plastic glass and metal do not have to deal with tonnes of filth, although there will be a bit, the paper and cardboard is largely clean and can be converted into packing boxes and tissue paper, and the organics can be composted. 

As a result these cities actually make money from garbage and do not have to worry much about where the next landfill site can be found.

The national clean-up day each month can go beyond just cleaning up an area. 

We have noted before that those who get involved are a less likely to throw their trash in the street, but it can also help make those involved wonder why there is so much trash of particular types in the first place, and they can then become activists for better packaging, better laws to make manufacturers take responsibility for packaging, and enthusiasts for a lot more recycling, turning one person’s trash into another’s raw materials.

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