Still addicted to plastic!

Plastic as far as the eye can see! Fresh produce pre-packed in plastic at a roadside market stall (Photo: Chris Feare)

While the accumulation of mountains of plastic waste has been of concern for many years, more recent revelations about degradation processes of plastics and the ubiquity of microplastic particles in most of earth’s environments have raised the profile of excessive plastic use and disposal. Undoubtedly, a major milestone in raising public awareness was David Attenborough’s “Blue Planet II” television series. Incredible photography, accompanied by a powerful script, brought home the severity of the problems faced by our oceans through man’s activities.

In advance of the broadcasting of Blue Planet II, in 2017 the Seychelles government announced a ban on the importation, manufacturing, distribution, and sale of single use plastic bags, styrofoam boxes for take-away meals and of plastic crockery and cutlery. These have largely been replaced by biodegradable equivalents. The move was deemed necessary following a study showing that plastic bags comprised one third of solid waste produced by the country – a small island nation that has difficulties finding space for the management of prolific waste.

Locally-grown fresh tomatoes with copious plastic wrapping (Photo: Chris Feare)

Unfortunately, there are signs that the ban is not being applied in all sectors. A recent visit to one of Mahe’s otherwise excellent roadside fresh produce markets revealed that virtually all of the produce was displayed in clear plastic bags. There was no option for the customer to decline the plastic wrapping! The sales assistant said this was to protect the produce from roadside dust. But all fresh food produce should be washed before use, which would remove dust!

I have come across many other examples where free plastic bags are being offered. At a hardware store in Providence I was offered a plastic bag in which to put plastic bags of plastic cable ties!

Victoria Saturday market: some items already plastic-wrapped, but a roll of plastic bags on hand to wrap anything else (Photo: Chris Feare)

The worry is that once one loophole finds its way into retail, others will quickly follow if policing of the regulations is inadequate.

While major progress has been made in limiting the use of plastics in some circumstances, there is a clear need to make further advances, including greater restriction of the availability of plastic bags and educating Seychellois and tourists alike to live healthy lives without them.

The world needs to be firm on the use and disposal of plastics. A small country like Seychelles is under even greater pressure with its limited capacity for waste disposal.

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