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[Column] Making a successful 'No-Plastic' Policy

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Source : Jeonnam Ilbo, Released on August 8th, 2018

(http://www.jnilbo.com/read.php3?aid=1533704896556364150)

 

Making a successful 'No-Plastic' Policy

-  Article by Mr. Lim Nak Pyong,

Secretary General of Urban Environmental Accords (UEA)

President of International Climate and Environment Center

Reducing the amount of disposable products used, and plastic products in particular, is a major issue in South Korea these days. Notices prohibiting the use of disposable plastic bags or cups are easily found at any cafe or mall.

It is now against the law to provide customers with free single-use plastic bags or cups. Some customers are complaining about the inconvenience, and some café owners are unhappy about having to buy extra mugs and wash them more often. However, even though it’s not before time, the government’s ban on disposable plastic is obviously good news.

Last August, the national government announced that single-use plastic products would not be allowed inside cafés and restaurants, and that disposable plastic bags would also be prohibited at marts and large supermarkets. Exceptions would only be permitted for takeout items not consumed in-store, and if plastic bags were paid for in bakeries.

Since last June, the Ministry of Environment has rolled out a series of campaigns to promote using fewer disposable products, including signing agreements with related companies and industries. Some complain the policy is too hasty, while others wanted more public consultation and agreement. However, what is certain is that this policy will be the starting point toward a better world without, or at least with less, disposable plastic pollution.

The slogan for this year’s United Nations World Environment Day on June 5th was “Beat Plastic Pollution”. It shows how international consent has made reached on how the plastic products people used in their everyday lives pollute the planet, and are a particular culprit in damaging the oceans and marine ecology.

Studies such as the UNEP report and Davos report warn that, “unless we take action, our oceans will contain more plastic than fish by 2050”. According to UNEP, 5 trillion plastic bags and cups are used every year, which emit harmful substances into the environmental ecosystem and will not decompose for centuries. Just as dust is now being recognized as harmful to people’s lives, so the day seems to be drawing closer when the true threat of microplastics to mankind will also be realized.

The day when microplastics are detected in drinking water or food is not far off. The UN realizes the seriousness of microplastics, and made their slogan of “Beat Plastic Pollution” in the hope of uniting people from every country to tackle the problem.

Actions have been taken around the world to make a start in the fight against plastic pollution. In particular, disposable plastic products such as cups, bags, tableware, straws, Styrofoam, etc., are being subject to additional tax, or even banned in some places. According to a UN report, 60 countries are adopting these kinds of regulations, especially against plastic bags and disposable drinking straws. There are also policies and requirements at local government levels all over the globe.

For example, Mumbai, a city of 13 million people in India, implemented one of strongest ‘no-plastic’ laws so far. Stores cannot use, sell, or give away any disposable bags or tableware made of plastic. Repeated violators will be fined up to 25,000 rupees (about US$350) or imprisoned for up to 3 months. India’s national government wants to expand the ban nationwide by 2022.

This no-disposable-plastic policy must be enforced successfully for the sake of the global environment. To make it happen, there must be a clearer vision on the policy, and greater efforts are needed to increase public awareness and agreement.

Additionally, there must be fewer exceptions permitted, and more industries, beyond just cafés and malls, must follow the policy in due course. What can make it work better will be the active involvement of local governments as they can get closer to local citizens who hold the key to a successful implementation. As in Mumbai, strong and firm policies that involve citizen participation need to be made. People also have to say no to the conveniences of disposable plastic products, and take personal action to save the environment.

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