THE use of plastics for a variety of activities has become a feature of human existence that would be very difficult to change. Plastics are used to make telephones, computers, refrigerators, motor engine parts, crockery and cutlery which would be in use in the same way their steel equivalents were, cloth and a vast array of other products which modern human beings would find it difficult to forego.
The plastic products we use could be classified into those which have a long usage life and those which are single – use. Single-use plastics include packaging for a variety of goods and this forms more than half of plastic usage together with the ubiquitous plastic bags used by shops and stores (‘the black bags”), the bottles used for aerated drinks and juices, drinking straws, cups, cutlery and numerous other such items.
Plastics are made from a petroleum and natural gas base and are not biodegradable, that is, they do not disintegrate and go back into the earth, like say, cotton cloth or cardboard. The single-use plastics which are more than half of the 3,000 tons of plastics produced annually are the plastics which are most in use. They are light, easy to transport, very useful and cheap and so are quickly disposed of as rubbish.
The main problem of these single-use plastics is that since they are non-biodegradable, they could remain intact forever. As such, they clog up the drainage systems and cause floods, they are strewn on agricultural land which hampers the growth of crops, they could often be the catchments for rain and other waters providing breeding grounds for mosquitoes and they also find themselves in the rivers and seas.
In the rivers and seas, they are a danger to marine life since larger marine creatures such as turtles, larger fish, sharks and even whales mistake such plastic wastes as food and swallow them, destroying their digestive systems and leading them to a slow and painful death. Even land animals which live near to human habitations such as domestic animals and pets could sometimes eat these one-use plastics causing them to become sick and even die. And they form a growing part of rubbish dumps.
Single-use plastics, though they have become so useful and necessary to modern Man, also have even more serious deleterious effects on human life. When the balance is made between the usefulness of single-use plastics and the dangers they cause to human and animal, especially to marine animals existence, most countries have decided that single-use plastics must be curtailed and finally phased out from human usage.
In Guyana, we have suffered from the use of single-use plastics in that they have helped to cause destructive and costly floods in a country which is flood-prone and have been destructive to the fauna, in particular, marine life. Many countries have already banned the use of single-use plastics and Guyana would be doing so in 2021.
2021 is really not very far away and so Guyanese will have to learn to live without single-use plastics. Before the widespread use of single-use plastics, Guyanese people instead used cloth, paper, woven coconut branches, and mukro and bamboo containers and baskets and glassware and enamel plates and stainless steel cutlery. The restaurants and food shops also used such cutlery and crockery. To revert to the usages we had before the single-use plastics would not be difficult, once people realize that this is the best alternative. Fortunately, most Guyanese understand why the single-use plastics are banned
In reverting to the era before single-use plastics, several industries could be revived such as making paper bags, making cloth and canvas shopping bags, and production of mukro and bamboo baskets. In the schools, basket making and other related crafts should again be taught.
Important, scientific and technological research has to be done to produce biodegradable replacements for the single-use plastics. Such research is on-going in several countries and in time there would be biodegradable equivalents of the single-use plastics. For example, biodegradable food boxes are now being imported and the local company, Caribbean Containers had been producing biodegradable food boxes. We are confident that in due course, biodegradable equivalents to the single-use plastic products would be available in the market.