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The Plastic Problem

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Monday, October 4th, 2010 by Vanessa Evershed

Following on from my Community gets involved in cleaning up Newlands Shopping Centre blog, I was pleasantly surprised to note that the following Friday morning of the 24th September 2010, the City of Harare was themselves painting the zebra crossings with a fresh coat of paint within the shopping area. I have no doubt that the communities work the previous week had got their attention and they felt they had to go out there and continue the good work that the surrounding businesses had already started. We now have a very fresh, clean looking shopping area in Newlands. Unfortunately this is not the case around the rest of the country and I am saddened every time I pass vacant areas of land and see copious amounts of plastic litter dumped right on the road. We need to do something about this continuing waste problem and get everyone to do their bit for their earth!

I recently found some interesting facts on the I Save Earth web site:

As we become more technologically advanced, we produce materials that can withstand extreme temperatures, are durable and easy to use. Plastic bags, synthetics, plastic bottles, tin cans, and computer hardware- these are some of the things that make life easy for us. But what we forget is that these advanced products do not break down naturally. Plastic bags are difficult and costly to recycle and most end up on landfill sites where they take around 300 years to photo degrade. They break down into tiny toxic particles that contaminate the soil and waterways and enter the food chain when animals accidentally ingest them. But the problems surrounding waste plastic bags starts long before they photo degrade.

When we dispose them in a garbage pile, the air, moisture, climate, or soil cannot break them down naturally to be dissolved with the surrounding land. Our planet is becoming increasingly contaminated by our unnecessary use of plastic carrying bags. Big black bin liners, plastic carrier bags carrying advertising logos, clear sandwich bags, vegetable bags and a variety of other forms used to carry our daily food items and other items are all polluting our environment. Just take a look around you. Plastic bags can be seen hanging from the branches of trees, flying in the air on windy days, settled amongst bushes and floating on rivers. They clog up gutters and drains causing water and sewage to overflow and become the breeding grounds of germs and bacteria that cause diseases.

We produce 6 billion tons of plastic a year. We use it for everything it seems. One reason why plastic was invented was to reduce ivory use. Plastic recycling is difficult, and not profitable, leading to only 3-5% of the plastic produced to be recycled.

Closer to home, social activist Peta Searle shared this information with Zimbabweans recently:

Over the years plastic has become the “clean, safe” and accepted method of packaging and carrying goods. The problem is that plastics are non-biodegradable. When they are carelessly thrown away, they collect around the city, choking drains, threatening small animals, damaging the soil and polluting our beautiful country. A study in Ghana showed that plastic wastes have virtually choked the drainage system in the urban centre’s of the country to such an extent that it takes only the slightest of rainfall to precipitate floods in major cities.

Plastic poisons and pollutes

Plastic is made from oil and coal, materials that are both unsustainable and non-renewable. Mining, transport, energy production and petrochemical processes all damage the environment. In this way, plastic production contributes to problems such as oil spills, toxic emissions, and global warming through the release of greenhouse gases. If you decide to burn plastic to try to get rid of it, there are also problems. Dioxins (any of several toxic hydrocarbons that occur as impurities in petroleum-derived herbicides, disinfectants, and other products) and furans (a colourless flammable toxic liquid heterocyclic compound, used in the manufacture of cotton textiles and in the synthesis of nylon) are two highly toxic chemicals created unintentionally during plastic incineration.

Plastic wastes choke seas across the globe. This form of pollution is one of the biggest environmental problems we face, and it’s only getting worse as plastic production continues to grow.

What can we do about the plastic problem?

Reduce, re-use, and recycle!

Plastic bags are everywhere and they don’t disappear when we throw them away and where is away. God gave us an earth to line on and every little speck of it is our responsibility, so I ask you again, when you throw it away where is away? Away is out of sight, out of mind, but global warming is all of our responsibility and it is time you played your part. So make the effort, only good can come of it. Reduce, reduce, reduce the use of plastic bags. Have a box in your car and load the groceries from the trolley into the boot. Carry a green bag to load up the groceries. Don’t put all the vegetables in to plastic when you have it weighed, bring your own big bag and weigh the vegetables separately and put them all in one packet. The more people who bring their own re-useable non-plastic bags to the shops, the less plastic bags are needed. If you already have plastic bags, you could re-use them several times yourself. Thick plastic bags are easier to re-use, and they are also easier and more profitable to recycle.


Campaigns to change the law about plastic bags have been very effective in many African countries. Botswana launched a plastics petition campaign, asking that shops only stock plastic bags thicker than 60 micron. Stronger, thicker plastic bags are re-useable and easier to recycle than thin bags. Shoppers should pay for the stronger bags, so that they would be more likely to re-use them than throw them away and manufacturers should make sure that plastic bags are made of materials that can be recycle more easily. The result is that several large shop chains now sell thicker re-useable plastic carrier bays.

The Eritrean government has also taken a firm line on plastic bags. Since January 2005, those who import, produce, distribute or sell plastic bags are fined, and Kenya may soon follow suite.

If you have to dispose of your plastic, throw it in a hole and bury it don’t burn it. Dioxin a gas released from the burning of plastic is highly carcinogenic and will affect an unborn baby. Appeal to your councilors to dig a deep hole in your neighbourhood where plastic can be disposed of and most importantly reduce and reuse.

Meanwhile we need to lobby to our governments to take strong action against toxic plastic products. I encourage anyone in local groups or organisations involved in this issue to join the expanding coalition – making strong connections in Zimbabwe is the next step. So get involved! It is our world that we have to keep clean and beautiful for ourselves, our children, our grandchildren and generations to follow.

Let’s make Zimbabwe beautiful.

Community gets involved in cleaning up Newlands Shopping Centre

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Monday, September 20th, 2010 by Vanessa Evershed
Sweeping the streets in Newlands

Sweeping the streets in Newlands

The Newlands area in Harare was a hive of activity on Friday with many of the local companies pulling together in true proud community spirit to clean up the unpleasant and polluted streets in the shopping centre.

There was a buzz in the air that made me feel proud to be Zimbabwean. One man helping with the clearing up operation bellowed out to his colleagues “come on Harare, let’s go”.

Staff from companies like Deloittes, Rio Tinto and AA Zimbabwe could be seen wearing their company T-shirts, sweeping the streets, repainting faded curbs and street markings. The City of Harare had been persuaded to deliver a bright orange skip into which volunteers dumped mounds of waste. At the Newlands Post Office an employee of Deloittes was overheard asking the Post Master if he had remembered to bring in 200lts of water so that they could wash their walls with a power cleaner.

It was obviously Newlands lucky day, because a City of Harare refuse truck was also seen collecting rubbish from our office block.

We hope this effort from the local community will energise the City of Harare to continue where the volunteers left off. Especially since their website claims that the Department’s mission is to “To prevent ill-health among the population of Zimbabwe through community education and regulatory mechanisms, to promote a health living and working environment, and to safeguard community health and quality of life.”

We at Kubatana say “Thanks, well done and keep the community spirit going!”

City of Harare refuse trucks do exist!

City of Harare refuse trucks do exist!