Preparing for the impending ban on single-use plastics ‒ Part 1
It seems as though a new gruesome image or video of a marine animal suffocated by plastics gets uploaded to social media every day. By now you probably have heard the stories of marine animals being washed up on shore with their stomachs full of plastics. These stories and images are graphic, but often we may catch ourselves thinking that if plastics are so bad, why do we continue to use and produce them?
Plastics are easy to use and transport materials; it is impossible to imagine life without them — just take a look around you. However, plastics actually have far-reaching negative effects on the environment, prompting the international community to rethink how we use and dispose of these materials, especially single-use plastics.
As Guyana continues to transform itself into a Green State, the country has announced that, by 2021, there will be a ban on single-use plastics. Within the next few weeks, the Environmental Protection Agency will write a series of articles on single-use plastics with the intention of keeping the public up to date as we move towards phasing out these materials.
What are single-use plastics?
Single-use plastics are designed to be used once before they are thrown away. These items can include plastic bags, straws, cups, spoons, forks, soda and water bottles, and most packaging.
Globally, approximately 300 million tons of plastics are produced each year, and more than half are single-use plastics. Plastics that are less than 35 microns thick cannot be reused, and typically end up in landfills and water bodies.
Most plastic bags, for example, are less than 35 microns. Plastic bags are made from a polymer substance known as polyethylene. Polyethylene is manufactured from ethylene, which is commonly extracted from natural gas (petroleum). Ethylene is treated to become a polymer (large molecules), forming long chains of carbon and hydrogen atoms. These chains can vary, depending on the type of polyethylene being used, but they all help to create various types of plastic bags. When exposed to heat, light and oxygen, these polymers disintegrate into small fragments, and can remain in the environment for prolonged periods of time.
What is the EPA doing about this?
Last year, the Agency, as part of its World Environment Day celebrations, hosted through Regions 2, 4, 6, 7 and 10 a number of public conversations around single-use plastics. To this end, the Department of Environment and the Environmental Protection Agency collaborated in not only informing stakeholders of the move, but also to garner support, particularly from the private sector.
A total of one hundred eighteen  persons attended the “Single-Use Plastics Conversations” throughout the regions. The conversations were intended to get initial feedback from citizens on their thoughts on the impending ban. Data from those conversations showed that citizens are open to the ban, since it would reduce pollution in the environment.
However, they asked for a matrix to test biodegradable alternatives. In some regions, citizens recommended adding a tax to plastic bags as a way to encourage shoppers to bring their own reusable shopping bags.
Citizens also suggested that the EPA work closely with the Police department to enforce the ban.
As we approach World Environmental Day 2019, the Agency will continue the “Single-Use Plastics Conversations” with citizens of Guyana through a number of public events engaging supermarkets, vendors and other businesses.
How can a citizen be prepared for the ban?
As we continue with this series focused on single-use plastics, we encourage you to read and follow the conversation. However, awareness goes only so far; a move away from single-use plastics involves an attitude change towards the reliance on single-use plastics.
Citizens do not have to wait for the ban to make small changes to reduce their plastic footprint. For starters, you can take up the single-use plastics challenge this week. The Agency challenges you to do two simple things to reduce your plastic footprint. First, encourage your family members to take a reusable bag when shopping. Secondly, remember to pack your reusable cutlery and water bottle in your lunch bag this week.
Feel free to tag us on social media. Remember, we are agents of change, and can always change our habits with practice. No matter how small, we need you to do your part as we move towards a sustainable Guyana.
You can share your ideas and questions by sending letters to: “Our Earth, Our Environment”, C/O ECEA Programme, Environmental Protection Agency, Ganges Street, Sophia, GEORGETOWN; or email us at: [email protected] or follow us on Facebook and Instagram.