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Home Impacts Sector Specific Biodiversity and Ecosystems Would you like a Paper or Plastic bag? by CityTech blogger Sergio Carrillo

Would you like a Paper or Plastic bag? by CityTech blogger Sergio Carrillo

Would you like a paper or plastic bag?

The question is one that not many people think twice before making a choice, at least in New York City. But, what if using plastic bags for groceries, bread, fruits, vegetables and any other goods we may need it for, were prohibited or fined?

Currently, there are fines or tickets for violations of Motor of Vehicles, Health Department, Fire Department, just to mention a few, but what about for using items like plastic bags?

Well, let me share a bit of an article that really makes me read to the last sentence! Let me take you to one of the most clean and disciplined cities in the African Continent, where using plastic bags not just induces public shaming, but is also considered a crime! Welcome to Gisenyi, Rwnada. Gisenyi is contiguous with Goma, the city across the border in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Here in Rwanda, it is illegal to import, produce, use or sell plastic bags and plastic packaging except within specific industries like hospitals and pharmaceuticals. Rwanda is probably Africa’s cleanest nation and among the most pristine in the world. Some other countries like Italy, France and China have banned or taxed the use of plastic bags but, Rwanda’s approach is on a totally different level. People who are caught introducing plastic are accountable to be fined or to spend time in jail. Stores have been shut down and fined for wrapping bread in cellophane, their owners required to sign apology letters all as part of the nation’s environmental cleanup.

Plastic bags, which take hundreds of years to degrade, are a major global issue, blamed for clogging oceans and killing marine life. In Rwanda, the authorities say the bags contribute to flooding and prevent crops from growing because rainwater can’t penetrate the soil when it is littered with plastic. There is plenty of evidence of the negative impacts of plastic waste in international cities. Biodegradable bags are allowed only for frozen meat and fish, not for other items like fruit and vegetables because such bags still take as long as 24 months to decompose, the government says.

The nation’s zero tolerance policy toward plastic bags really encourages me to be more careful about using plastic bags and I hope that this idea is contagious for the rest of the world. Everyone can contribute to avoid the use of plastic bags by having a real bag when we go for groceries, bread, and any other goods. There is no need for a plastic bag! Let’s expand the life of the environment and let’s not wait for punishment to change our behaviors.

Photo Credit: nocamels.com

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1 Comment  comments 

One Response

  1. Lauren

    First of all, thank you for bringing up this issue! As someone who grew up in a town that has outlawed plastic bags and that has stores which charge a small fee of ten cents for each paper bag, I could not agree more. I was astonished by the wastefulness of packaging in New York City when I first arrived here. It seems that the checkout clerk assumes that the buyer wants a double bag: a plastic bag lined with a paper bag on the outside. I often tell the clerk that I do not need a bag and sometimes I get a strange look. Additionally, even for one or two items the clerks will give you the item in two bags, even though none is necessary. Although New Yorkers have a low carbon footprint per capita, I think avoiding plastics could improve this even more. I urge New Yorkers to think twice before taking a double bag – or a bag at all when going to the grocery store!

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