Plastic Waste All Over the Place

Plastic Waste All Over the Place

If you’ve walked the streets of Addis Ababa or other major cities in Ethiopia, it’s likely that you’ve seen plastic bags and other materials accumulate on street corners and sidewalks. Not only is this waste unsightly, but it also poses grave environmental and health risks. This increased waste, analysts say, are due to two major factors: the increased use of plastic bags and a weak waste management system in major cities. EBR’s Meseret Mamo spoke with waste management experts, urban dwellers and government officials to learn more about this growing problem and what’s being done to stop it.

Plastic bag waste is currently posing serious environmental and health risks all over the world – and the situation is arguably worse in developing countries like Ethiopia. This is because in Ethiopia the solid waste management system is still relatively undeveloped vis-à-vis other countries.
Dumping plastic bags in the streets, rivers, in drains and public places is commonplace in urban areas like Addis Ababa. This is despite the existence of 610 associations that work in solid waste management, of which 27 are privately-owned enterprises.
Indeed, waste management in Addis Ababa has improved since the city started its solid waste management system two decades ago. Roads are now relatively cleaner, although Addis Ababa is generating an ever-increasing volume of waste every day.
Chekol Wubet, 37, is married woman who lives in the NifasSilk Lafto District. She says that solid waste collectors have made her life easier and she is thankful for the disposal of solid waste generated in her house.
However, she is not satisfied by the increased use of plastic bags and the subsequent waste they produce, especially on the street or in public areas. “I always see abandoned plastic bags wherever I go,” Chekol told EBR.
Girma Gemechu, a chemist who works at the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) told EBR that plastic waste could cause pollution to the underground water as well as contribute to the effects caused by harmful greenhouse gases. According to the World Health Organisation, the use of chemical additives during plastic have potentially harmful effects that could prove to be carcinogenic or promote endocrine disruption.
A 2012 survey conducted by Legesse Adane and Diriba Muleta, both lecturers at Jimma University, indicates that the practice of using plastic bags has been increasing in recent years in spite of a awareness creation efforts to the residents about the adverse effects of these products. Despite the clear danger plastic waste pose to the environment and human health, its penetration into the market and in the life of the society is increasing.
Chekole says she is no different from the rest of the society. Chekole uses plastic bags when she goes shopping. “Although I know using plastic bags is bad for my health and the environment, I still use them,” she confesses.
The survey, which was conducted in Jimma, surveyed 230 randomly selected respondents and shows that 76.52Pct of the respondents use plastic bags more frequently than any other plastic products regardless of their age, occupation, economic and educational status. The low price and availability were the main reasons for the widespread utilisation of these products. Some of the major problems indicated in the survey were animal death, blockage of sewage lines, deterioration of the natural beauty of the environment and human health problems.
Globally, plastic bags were introduced in the 1970’s and gained popularity amongst consumers and retailers. Currently, they are available in huge numbers and varieties across the world. It is estimated that around one trillion plastic bags are used every year worldwide. This widespread usage is the result of their cheapness and convenience.
The majority of these products become waste after a single use. According to the MoEF’s assessment, 54.16Pct of plastic materials can be used only once. Plastic bags can also persist up to 1,000 years without being decomposed by sunlight, according to the WHO’s latest report. This, in turn, creates foul smells and favourable habitats for mosquitoes and other vectors that could spread a large number of diseases such as encephalitis, dengue fever and malaria.
In various countries, initiatives have attempted to reduce the reliance on plastic bags in an attempt to decrease the frequency with which they are used. For example, Ethiopia banned the manufacturing or importing of plastic bags with 0.3 mm or less thickness in 2007. However, such legislative measures have failed to minimize the adverse impacts using plastic bags as well as solving the problem of pollution.
“Those companies that are licensed to produce plastic products other than plastic bags are the ones that are producing them,” Girma explains. “Plastic bags can be produced with the same raw materials other plastic products require and it is easy to adjust machinery to produce plastic bags.” According to data obtained from the MoEF, there are 480 plastic manufacturing companies in Addis Ababa.
“We used to think that it is illegal and unlicensed producers are manufacturing plastic bags in the country,” says Girma. “But the assessment we made this year has changed our previous assumption.” The result of the assessment was shocking for Girma and his colleges: Among the 16 legally registered plastic factories assessed by the task force of the Ministry, 12 of them are found producing prohibited plastic materials.
Currently, the Ministry is planning to better enforce the law in collaboration with stakeholders, according to Girma. “But we prefer to create awareness first,” he adds. “Although the law levied a criminal punishment on the transgressors, the Ministry has been giving warnings so far, thinking that creating awareness must come first than enforcing the law.”
In addition to the increasing use of plastic products, the failure to properly dispose them is worsening the situation. “There is nothing that motivates enterprises engaged in waste disposal to separate waste by its kind rather than separating waste in order to sell it,” says Dawit Tekle, head of the Arada District’s Solid Waste Management Office. Metals, plastic bottles and thicker plastic materials are the categories waste collectors make a separation for the purpose of sale.
The assessment conducted by the MoEF in Addis Ababa also reveals the same reality. According to the data, 81.25Pct of used plastic bags are disposed with other waste while only 10.41Pct are discarded separately. The rest, 8.33Pct, is disposed in an unknown manner. This phenomenon, according to stakeholders, hinders the recycling potential of used plastic bags.
According to Robel Estifanos, manager of Rose Solid & Liquid Waste Collecting Services, a company that also engages in recycling, plastic bags are recyclable products if they are properly and separately disposed. However, he says since they are not getting enough used plastic bags in good condition, they are forced to purchase them at a relatively higher cost.
Legesse Hailu, chairman of Godana Micro and Small Enterprise that is engaged in solid waste collection in Arada District, told EBR that collectors separate solid waste in three steps: – when they take the waste from the households, when they put it in its temporary storage and finally when they make it ready for transportation. “But they don’t separate plastic bags because plastic bags have no demand in the market,” he adds.
As a result, most cities in Ethiopia like Addis are also seriously polluted by plastic bag waste. To reverse this situation, stakeholders recommend that various campaigns need to be organized in order to mobilize the public against haphazard use and disposal of plastic bags. EBR

3rd Year • June 16 – July 15 2015 • No. 28


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