EDITORIAL: Plastic menace

There is need to make concerted efforts from government, citizens and other stakeholders to get rid of plastics

The Earth Day was marked across the country on Sunday raising awareness about the need to end the use of plastic bags which have now become one of the major environmental concerns. At a programme jointly organised by UNDP and Clean Energy Nepal in the Capital, environment experts laid emphasis on taking drastic measures to combat the overuse of plastic, which, they said, not only polluted the local environment but also threatened the aquatic, marine bio-diversity and soil fertility. Various speakers laid emphasis on tackling excessive use of plastic – for example the bags containing less than 20 micron – are harmful for environment. They said the government alone cannot do anything to control the use of plastic. Local elected representatives, citizens themselves and plastic bags manufacturers must work together to discourage the use of plastic bags which are widely used to carry goods but are dumped carelessly. The use of plastic products cannot be stopped completely overnight; but they can be used in a proper way, say experts. Nepal is no exception to excessive use of plastic products. Many least developing and developing countries are also facing the same problem. The overuse of plastic can be lessened if all the countries and urban centres think globally and act locally.

Plastic litter in the ocean has now been one of the major global concerns of marine life, biodiversity and ecosystem. Over 70 per cent untreated plastic and other wastes are disposed of directly into oceans, causing huge environmental impact on the oceanic life, causing direct bearing on weather pattern. When the UN members will meet in New York in June, the problem of marine litter will be the top priority. It is estimated that a marine area as big as France has now been littered with plastic products, mainly in the Caribbean, China and India. This is a global problem, which requires a global planning and strategy. But every nation must work locally. Rwanda, Bangladesh and Kenya have imposed a complete ban on the use of plastic bags which cause more pollution in the local environment than other recyclable plastic.

In Nepal, the government had considered imposing a ban on the use of black plastic bags less than 20 microns thick way back in 2010. But it could not be implemented due to lack of proper directives and guidelines. The ban was imposed only in July 2016. The Plastic Bag Directives was introduced in 2014, which said the use of plastic bags below 30 microns thick would be banned. The government had announced a nationwide ban on the use, sale, distribution, import and export of plastic bags from July 17, 2016. But this directive failed to yield any desired results due to the government’s poor monitoring and fierce opposition from plastic bag manufacturers. One of the easiest ways of imposing a total ban on the use of plastic bag is imposing a total ban on import of raw material as Nepal does not produce any plastic-related raw material. Over half a million pieces of plastic bags are used daily in the Kathmandu Valley alone. Plastic manufacturers have long been calling on the government to provide them with an alternative to plastic bags so that they can produce other degradable bags made of paper or jute. The government must give them an option.

Pachyderms in peril

Nepal has made great strides in conservation of one-horned rhinos in recent years. However, recent deaths of rhinos in the Chitwan National Park due to various reasons other than poaching have emerged as a major cause for concern, as experts scramble to figure out why the pachyderms in the CNP are dying at such an alarming rate. According to park officials, eight one-horned rhinos died in 2014, 15 in 2015, 14 in 2016 and 24 in 2017. Deaths of one-horned rhinos – which are found only in Nepal and India –have left conservationists worried.

The Department of National Parks’ move to launch an investigation to find the causes of untimely deaths of this endangered species is a welcome move. An investigating panel is conducting a study of grasslands, habitat, water sources, rivers and forests. The team is also preparing to send samples collected from the dead pachyderms for lab tests to find out if they were suffering from any deadly diseases. Nepal’s rhino population is currently estimated to be 645. CNP officials say as many as 269 rhinos have died in the CNP since 1998. There is an urgent need to find out the causes of rhino deaths so as to protect this species.