For years, institutions and individuals have been laying stress on the crucial need to fix our environment. We have seen such obvious and yet harmful effects of our carelessness. One evident example is climate change, where there have been changes in the usual weather patterns and seasons. These present new unique problems, such as droughts and floods. What remains clear in this fight for a greener society is that commercialisation has a huge role to play in perpetuating the neglect of the environment.
Take single-use plastics, for example. Even with all the known dangers, they are commonly used for packaging and service ware, such as bottles, wrappers, straws, and bags. This double-edged sword is suffocating the environment, and while some countries have gone to the extremity of banning them, we still have a very long way to go. In Kenya, there has been significant improvement. In 2017, Kenya moved to the forefront of the global war on single-use plastics when it outlawed the manufacturing, sale and distribution of plastic carrier bags. Even so, the use of other single-use plastics has continued to plague us.
Companies such as Safaricom have taken centre stage in conserving the environment and particularly through reducing the use of single-use plastics. For one, the company is committed to being a plastic-free organisation by 2022 and has steadfastly been phasing out plastics within its operations.
But why? What’s the big deal? Here are 4 dangers of single-use plastics.
1. They do not decompose
The main issue with single-use plastics is that they do not decompose. This means that they exist within the environment for years on end. Instead, what happens is that after many years, it will degrade into tiny particles. In breaking down, it releases toxic chemicals that cause cancer, infertility, birth defects, impaired immunity and many other ailments.
So why not just recycle or re-use single-use plastics? It’s hard to recycle petroleum-based disposable plastic, meaning they have to add new virgin materials and chemicals to it to do so. More often than not, this process is time-consuming and expensive.
2. They pollute our water sources
You must have visited a water body and found a significant amount of plastic pollution. The problem is that these water bodies complete life cycles and are home to millions of species. So, what happens when we dump plastic into oceans and rivers? Plastic debris injures and kills fish, seabirds and marine mammals. Additionally, floating plastics accumulate pollutants and transport them through currents, thus polluting the food chain.
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3. They pollute our food
There’s an interesting argument that in order to build food security, we need to reduce or completely eliminate the use of plastics. You may be wondering what the relationship between the two is. When plastic pollution contaminates aquatic and agricultural ecosystems, they become a hazard. They threaten both animal and human health. Marine life, a source of human food, suffers from ingesting plastic or by being entrapped or suffocated. When humans consume this food, it is likely to have negative impacts on the endocrine and immune systems.
4. They cause deforestation
Forests are, in almost every sense, beneficial to humans. If we are to name a few benefits, at the top of the list would be that they are a haven for biodiversity, purify the air, help to generate rainfall, and fight climate change by absorbing more carbon than they release. The increased use of single-use plastics has continued to cause deforestation. How? Plastics affect carbon cycling by disrupting soil microbial processes, plant growth, or litter decomposition. This could essentially threaten our forests.
How Safaricom has committed to the reduction of single-use plastics
In many instances, companies contribute largely to the wide use of single-use plastics. Safaricom, however, has blazed a trail for other companies by being the exception. Since 2017, they have been phasing out single-use plastics within their operations. Venanzio Waweru, who is Safaricom’s Manager, Order Fulfilment and Delivery Assurance, says that one initiative they have been implementing is to reduce the plastic body of a SIM card by 50%. This has decreased the amount of plastic used by around 15.9 million pieces a year.
Additionally, at the retail level, the use of plastic during SIM card packaging has been switched from plastic wrap to scratch off panels. The company is also looking into eSIM cards directly embedded into phones as yet another arsenal against plastic waste.
To add to all these initiatives, the business has phased out plastic straws for stainless steel cutlery and reusable enamel plates and glasses. In Safaricom’s establishments such as gyms, shops, offices, and receptions, they have replaced plastic cups and tumblers with reusable plastic bottles and glasses.
Hopefully, more companies and businesses can emulate Safaricom and make implementations that will contribute to making the country a greener, more sustainable place to live.
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