Bhutan banned plastic bags on April 20,1999. It made headlines. Nearly twenty years on, though, we are still talking about the need to outlaw the use or sale of plastic carry bags, wrappers and homemade ice cream pouches.
The National Environment Commission last week issued a notification to reinforce the ban which it said would take effect from April 1. If memory serves right, this is the third reinforcement effort since 2005. The second time we underscored to need to implement the ban was in 2009.
Our failure to deal with one of the major problems facing our society today could not be more stark.
Going by the type, plastic bags and wrappers constitute the largest share of waste, particularly in the cities and bigger towns. Our drains, pathways and landfill sites are filled with plastic waste. Increasingly, even our pristine forests are being littered with plastic waste of kinds and kinds.
Last June, Samdrupjongkhar Thromde and regional offices signed a memorandum of understanding to make Samdrupjongkhar the first plastic-free town in the country. The Thromde Tshogde went to the extent of banning the use and sale of plastic products at vegetable market. The following week, Tsirang reinforced plastic ban with introduction of biodegradable jute bags and awareness programmes.
We make efforts all right, but it is hard to comprehend how our “diligent efforts” do not seem to translate into commendable result.
Sensitisation programmes are important but we must also come up with alternatives if we are to reduce the use of plastic bags. Our problem seems to be with monitoring, rather the lack of it. From April 1, business establishments found selling or using plastic carry bags, wrappers and homemade ice cream pouches will have to pay a fine of Nu 500 for the first offence and Nu 1,000 for the second offence. Subsequent violation will result in cancellation of the business licence. The key, however, is bolstering monitoring mechanism without which we would be calling for yet another ban reinforcement.
What we need to remind ourselves is that the impact of unmanaged waste on the country’s fragile ecology will be costly. Earnest effort so ought to be made to wean ourselves off plastic bags and waste.