Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Plastic bags: environmental time bombs

Just back from 7/11 down the road where on picking up a couple of items the lady at the counter pleasingly said almost apologetically, “Sorry, no plastic day”. What, no VISA or Mastercard? What she meant to say I learnt from my colleagues in the office is that every Tuesday in the Special Administrative Region is No Plastic Bag Day, an encouraging development.
A couple of years back a photographer and I headed to one of the largest garbage dumps in the world, in Payatas near Manila.
Amid the squalor, the atrocious smell, the squelching sensation underfoot, what sticks out most visibly in these mountains of rubbish are the plastic bags. They perforate every seam of the garbage hills, one of which collapsed in 2000 causing many deaths, and only on seeing these monuments to waste does the true disastrous nature of the proliferation of these largely superfluous bags hit home. Amid the decaying detritus, it is the plastic bags that refuse to break down, leaching chemicals into the environment.
Plastic bags, which are of course made using oil, represent one of the great stupidities of mankind — the damage they do, compared with the amount of use the average bag gets is shocking. The world uses up as many as one trillion of them a year, many of course are used just once.
So while the idea of a No Plastic Bag Day is commendable let’s go the whole hog and levy taxes on bags. Ireland did this and these environmental time bombs are almost a thing of the past, usage down by more than 95%.
On a recycling tangent: as a buyer of 750ml glass bottles of Perrier with a twist of lime most mornings why, oh why, is there no glass recycling whatsoever in Hong Kong? The government line, I am reliably informed, is that glass recycling is heavy and as a result the transport costs are higher. The glass cannot be crushed down or bailed together like plastic bottles and tins and sent across the border for recycling. This issue needs resolving!

1 comment:

Joshua Samuel Brown said...

Sam, I've been working on an idea that would rock for an HK, Taiwan, Singapore or China based environmental group wanting to curtail the use of plastic in their society. I'll email it to you.

Taiwan has done quite a bit, but the fact is that way more needs to be done. Personally I think we're all doomed to choke to death on plastic bags. Our last words as the life is sucked from us will echo those of Kurtz in Apocalypse Now (though through a Bizarro-world filter)

"The convenience....

...The Convenience..."