This week, we witnessed some positive news coming from the European Union: the 28 member states followed an overwhelming vote in the European Parliament to ban single-use plastic items such as straws, cutlery, cotton buds, and balloon sticks. Drafting a detailed legislation will soon begin as they aim to have this new law imposed by 2021.
According to Plastic Oceans, the world is now producing nearly 300 million tons of plastic every year, half of which is for single use. More than 8 million tons of plastic is dumped in our oceans every. single. year. Plastic takes hundreds of years to decompose and poses a direct threat to all marine and coastal flora and fauna. Indeed, it is reported that over 90% of fish and birds have some form of plastic particles in their stomach. If we work up the food chain, chances are we're regularly ingesting some, too.
So how does all this plastic make it to the ocean in the first place?
Studies show that plastic is washed into the oceans by way of rivers. 90% of this plastic comes from just 10 rivers, 8 of them are in Asia including the Mekong River which passes through Cambodia. With fish contributing to more than 60% of the protein intake for rural Cambodians, this is a huge problem!
According to an ACRA Foundation study, around 10 million plastic bags are used in Phnom Penh every day. Urban Cambodians use more than 2,000 plastic bags every year. That means that in the capital, individuals will use on average 5 plastic bags a day!
©Amanda Montañez - “Export of Plastic Debris by Rivers into the Sea,” by Christian Schmidt in Environmental Science & Technology, Vol. 51, No. 21; November 7, 2017
How can we tackle this problem?
- Education: Creating communication campaigns to promote a new sensibility on the problem of improper disposal of plastic bags to change consumer behavior. Great initiatives such as Go Green Cambodia or Plastic Free Cambodia have successfully gathered thousands for cleanups and awareness events across the country, including on World Cleanup Day earlier this September.
- Legislation: The Ministry of Environment introduced a new regulation against the use of plastic bags in April this year. Big retailers are now charging 0.10 cents per plastic bag and offering reusable jute tote alternatives to customers. While this is just a first step, more government support to fight plastic pollution will push retailers to adopt better solutions.
- Action: simple steps can be adopted to avoid using plastic daily.
- Bring your own mug to your favorite coffee shop.
- Forgot your mug? How about enjoying your coffee there instead of rushing out with it?
- Ask the bartender for a straw-free cocktail.
- Bring your own reusable tote bag on your next grocery run.
- Avoid unnecessary plastic packaging whenever you can. Shop organic veggies you can hand-pick yourself!
- Is your favorite take-out wrapping your food in styrofoam? Talk to them about it. Starting up a conversation is the best way to open dialogue on the problem. You can suggest new packaging solutions for them to adopt such as Cleanbodia or Only One Planet.
©Sun Leangheng - World Cleaning Day Cambodia, 15th September 2018 in Phnom Penh
While on an individual level these life hacks can help you avoid using plastic unnecessarily, the European Union showed great initiative to tackle this problem on a larger scale. They are setting a great example of a collaborative effort for a common issue and we hope South East Asian governments will follow in similar footsteps.