A WhatsApp image made a curious read: “My grandfather saw water in rivers, my father saw water in buckets, I see water in bottles, where will my grandson see water?”
It is the story of our deteriorating culture—how we use the available resources at hand, the harm that we do to nature and the uncaring attitude that we have towards our future generation. We have come to believe that only packaged water is safe and other sources of water are deadly. We fail to think that no one died in olden days from thirst by not drinking packaged water.
Among all the harmful pollutants plastic bottle pollution seems to be the worst. Everyone knowingly or unknowingly participates in this pollution. But we have not understood the seriousness of this issue and the danger we are getting into.
Use of plastics began in the 1950s and now it has gone out of hand due to its large usage. While plastic has many valuable uses, we have become addicted to single-use or disposable plastic — with severe environmental consequences. Around the world, one million plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute. In total, half of all plastic, especially bottles produced is designed to be used only once and then thrown away. Disposable plastic is the best example of our use and through culture. They also manifest how extravagant and wasteful life we are all living.
Holding a water bottle in hand and drinking only packaged water has become an elite culture that everyone wants to emulate. We need to ask basic questions: how many people are able to buy this drinking water, does the government care to provide clean drinking water to people and what policies are put in place to protect the environment from this deadly pollution.
Some of the shocking facts are: Plastic water bottles are made from a petroleum product called polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which requires giant amounts of fossil fuels to make and transport. The production of bottled water uses 17 million barrels of oil a year. That’s slightly more than it would take to fill one million cars a year with fuel. It takes almost 2,000 times the energy to manufacture a bottle of water than it does to produce tap water.
It takes up to 1,000 years for every single bottle of water to decompose. Each bottle leaks harmful chemicals into our environment along the way as it decomposes. Studies show that the toxins decomposing bottles of water leach into our environment cause a variety of health issues, including reproductive problems and cancer. If the current pollution trend continues, by 2050 we could have more plastic in our oceans than fish and marine life. Plastic waste largely consists of plastic bottles, whether in a river, an ocean, or on land — can persist in the environment for centuries.
China remains one of the major polluters of the world. China’s Chang Jiang (Yangtze) River, which flows past Shanghai, delivers nearly 1.5 million tons of plastic waste into the Yellow Sea annually. The major polluted rivers of the world include Niger, Nile, Ganges, Citarum, Sarno, Danube, Marilao, and others. The 10 major rivers alone carry more than 90% of the plastic waste, mostly bottles that end up in the oceans.
Website http://Ugfacts.net lists 13 large mineral water packaging companies in Uganda, most of them in Kampala. There are also several other smaller mineral water companies in other towns of Uganda that are not listed anywhere. There are also no documented records on their production capacity and how many bottles are sold by each of these companies on a daily basis. Now even the leading international brands of beverages are packaging their drinks in plastic bottles, often with no environment protection policies. And we all know that Kampala city is littered with empty water bottles everywhere and oftentimes they cause water clogging in the city drainage and water channels. A large amount of this plastic waste reaches our lakes causing immeasurable damage to biodiversity.
In their websites, some companies proudly exhibit their outstanding economic achievements, professionalism in managing their business, exemplary employment policies, and other ethical practices, but they conveniently fail to talk about the environmental pollution their products are causing and they do not have any suggestion or policy to control the harm.
A casual glance at some of the websites of the beverage companies based in Kampala reveal that no one has any environment protection policies. A few of them vaguely mention that they do care for the environment, but do not say how. They only mention their corporate social responsibility and the charity they occasionally do.
Now it is the responsibility of all players in the society to do reparation and mend ways to protect the environment from pollution and environmental degradation caused by plastic bottles. Certainly, we need to do the following—government should make strict laws on plastic bottle manufacture and import. Make beverage companies to put in place policies on recycle of bottles by setting up recycle plants, collecting bottles back and help government bodies to clean up the environment and participate in recycle programmes, The public institutions such as schools, government offices, hospitals should install water fountains for clean drinking water, government should to supply homes clean and reliable water that is safe to drink, and revenue authority can give tax reduction on water purifying machines.
More than anything else, individual citizens should make conscious and committed decisions to reduce their use of water bottles by carrying steel containers or reusable bottles for water and other drinks, avoid using packaged water but learn to use boiled water or home purified water. And make an effort to dispose of plastic bottles responsibly by taking steps to recycle them. Education and public institutions should educate the masses on the harm caused by plastic bottles and reduce the plastic bottles as much as possible.
Fr. Lazar Arasu is a Catholicr Priest and School Administrator.
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