My octogenarian mother who is visiting us is quite shocked at the way Bahrain uses plastic with nary a thought for the future.
Coming from a culture and a generation that placed conservation at the heart of their life choices, she tries to make the most of situations where she is forced to use it, re-using plastic milk pouches to segregate and dispose kitchen wet waste, refusing double packaging of fruit and veg and even finding ways to scrape off labels and use plastic oil jars as planters.
So, when we went shopping and bought vegetables in plastic bags to put into our big reusable shopping bag (brownie point there!), she was puzzled. Why would we continue to contribute to landfill waste when we have taken the trouble to bring along a roomy reusable bag?
My daughters in the UK are very eco-conscious too, using only green cleaning materials and always carrying their water bottles to work or even to the mall so that they need not buy plastic water bottles.
So what made my generation skip the nuances of the green movement? In Bahrain, I think it is a combination of indifference from the public and lack of muscle for environmental rules.
And, the truth is we are happy with cosmetic assurances – like the one about all plastic shopping bags being biodegradable in Bahrain, for instance. According to environmental groups, when plastic is labelled ‘biodegradable’, it means it will degrade and turn into micro particles within three to six months instead of the hundreds of years that non-bio plastics take to disappear from Earth.
Many of us assume that ‘biodegradable’ means we can toss it on our garden heap and it will vanish naturally but more often than not, it means that it can only be composted industrially. industrial composting conditions and recycling facilities that have the ability to heat the bioplastic to a high enough temperature to break down.
As far as I know, there is no such industrial composting facility in Bahrain.
If bioplastics were to end up in the ocean, they would break down into tiny pieces similarly to traditional plastics. Further, it’s important to separate bioplastics and recycled plastic because if bioplastic contaminates traditional plastic, the whole lot could be rejected in the composting stage and end up in landﬁll.
In Bahrain, the concept of segregating waste is sketchy and since its practice is not enforced by law, only a few ‘green’ households bother with it. And, while we are at it, dare we look at the crisis we are building with e-waste? My neighbourhood bin recently sported a discarded car battery – considering that it sits at the perimeter of an open ground where children play and is also foraging hub for the street moggies, this was a disaster waiting to happen.
We should move beyond those mindless gestures of switching off lights in big buildings for Earth Hour and get down to the everyday business of saving our planet.
If Sri Lanka can ban plastic shopping bags completely – you can buy eggs or emeralds there, all you will get are recycled paper bags – why not Bahrain?
A surcharge on plastic use, a discount for eco-friendly packaging and products, a rule that all households must segregate waste – just these three starting points will help reduce the strain on our kingdom. We owe ourselves and our children that much.