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Before I die

Published by The Nation on Sat, 20 Jul 2019

There is no need to be afraid of losing me soon. Absolutely no need because I do not plan to die any time soon. I have not even started living. Great heights lie ahead of me. So, Mr Death, keep away from my lane in Gods name!So, you may wonder what he is up to. This is just about a matter I look forward to seeing real change in my lifetime. Let me begin this way: Some days back I saw a video by my friend and colleague, Olatunji Ololade, on the sinking Adeniji Adele Estate on Lagos Island. Everything in the video caught my attention. But some plastic bags here and there brought to mind a problem we have been facing as a country, especially during the rainy season. As a child growing up in Orile-Agege, rain was good. Very good. We used to play in it and we sang to it: Rain rain, go away. Now an adult, I am not really sure of my feeling about rain, especially when it comes at a time when I need to go out and sort out important or urgent matters. But of more importance to me is how the rains expose us as a country of deficient leaders and complacent citizens.Things, like Chinua Achebes amazing novel title, have fallen apart with our drainage channels. Permit me to use my dear state, Lagos, for example. When it rains in Lagos now, our gutters are blocked, not by sand but by plastic bags and other plastic products. It was never like that. I cannot recollect seeing streets flooded with plastic waste after rains in the 80s. We have become reckless, very reckless with the way we dispose of plastic bags. And when the rains come, they are washed into the drainage and everywhere is flooded. We blame the government for blocked drainages but the bulk of the fault should be placed on our abuse of plastic bags. Government is not blameless; its fault is that it does not instil discipline in its citizens by catching and punishing offenders. Aside from punishing offenders, we need to emulate the policies elsewhere.In advanced countries and some developing ones, the danger of plastic bags is being tamed. The first time I noticed this was on a trip to the United Kingdom. I bought an item in a store and I was asked if I needed a plastic bag to wrap it. I wondered why I was being asked when it was obvious that I should be given a plastic bag as a right. It dawned on me that I was asked the question because a new law just came into effect mandating stores to charge for plastic bags. When I saw that I was to pay five pence, I declined, offering to carry the item without the bag. After that, I started going with a plastic bag anytime I went for shopping. I was saving money, but the country was being saved and the environment was the better for it.To show its seriousness to save the environment, by January, the UK government may make all retailers double the current five pence fee for plastic carrier bags. The government is obviously encouraged to take this line of action after statistics show that the current plan has helped the environment. Before the policy was introduced in 2015, the use of plastic bags in supermarkets in England was out of control. Over 7.6 billion carrier bags were given to customers in 2014. The introduction of the policy, researches have shown, led to retailers taking 15 billion carrier bags out of circulation. Tesco, Asda, Sainsburys, Morrisons, Waitrose, Marks & Spencer and The Co-op, which are the UKs seven biggest supermarkets, recorded 86 per cent drop in plastic bag sales after the policy was introduced. This, said statisticians, means an equivalent of one person using around 140 plastic bags each year before the charge, to just 19 bags in 2017-18.A report by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries, and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) shows that plastic bag marine litter dropped by half. All thanks to the charge. Interestingly, small and medium shops which still give out bags free of charge still give over 3.6 billion plastic bags to their customers every year. The new plan intends to force small and medium shops to implement the ten pence charge. This will be more reduction in waste and money for local, national and environmental charities.By 2022, a tax will also be introduced on plastic packaging without at least 30 per cent recycled content. I must also point out that the European Union, by 2021, will ban plastic straws, cotton swabs, disposable plastic plates and cutlery. These are the stuffs we see in our drainage channels anytime it rains. They block the channels and contribute greatly to flooding the roads with water and waste.According to a report in the standard.co.uk, about 55 countries have introduced a complete ban on single-use plastic carrier bags. The report said: Bangladesh became the first government to ban the bags as early as 2002. Since then, dozens of countries followed suit, with African nations leading the way including Eritrea (2005), Tanzania (2006), Uganda (2007) and Rwanda (2008). Since 2010, European countries have also begun to introduce full bans. Italy passed legislation scrapping all plastic bags in 2011, with countries like France and Monaco following in 2016. Macedonia also introduced a full ban on carrier bags in 2013.Other countries also charge for single-use plastic carrier bags. They include Denmark, Cyprus, Germany and Poland. Across the pond in the USA, regional bans are in force across the country, including in the state of California, but several districts such as Washington D.C are operating a charge on plastic carrier bags, said the report.I look forward to us joining the sane world; enough of the craziness around here.My final take: We need to follow the world in reducing waste by making people pay for plastic bags in stores. We have too many plastic bags, which we call nylons in our homes, which we do not need and end up throwing away. Many of them and the disposable plates we use at our uncountable owambes end up in the drainage channels and help flood our streets.
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