August 30, 2017

Going to Jail for Using Plastic Bags?

Going to Jail for Using Plastic Bags?

Plastic bags can be extremely harmful when they get into marine ecosystems. Photo Credit: NOAA Photo Library

Plastic bags. They are ubiquitous, aren’t they? They can be so convenient too. We’ve all been using them. Imagine, though, if you could be sent to jail for doing so.

In the African nation of Kenya, people can now be jailed for using plastic bags.

The country’s highest court has just greenlit a move to impose very harsh penalties for the use of plastic bags in an attempt to try and rid the country of the scourge of these cheap and disposable products that pose severe threats to the environment. Kenyans could soon find themselves in prison for up to four years or face the prospect of $40,000 (RM170,000) in fines for using plastic bags. The penalties, which are the world’s toughest, will be meted out to distributors of plastic bags, not to end users, however.

Plastic shopping bags can sure be handy, but they are hazards to the environment. Photo Credit: Flickr

Such a draconian solution is necessary, the country’s lawmakers argue, because an estimated 100 million plastic bags are given away each year in Kenya with most of them ending up as litter on streets and roads, from where they spread far and wide around the country. The discarded bags can serve as breeding grounds for diseases, clog streams and endanger animals like fish and turtles that may mistakenly swallow them. “If we continue like this, by 2050, we will have more plastic in the ocean than fish,” said Habib El-Habr, an expert on marine litter in Kenya, pointing to a well-known statistic about the extent of plastic waste in the world’s oceans.

Hence the need for the fines. Just like Kenya, several African countries have likewise implemented various bans on the use of plastic bags. Globally some 40 nations impose less severe penalties for the use of plastic bags. Several Malaysian states, too, have been flirting with bans on plastic bags and fines for littering. The results have been mixed.

Few Malaysian lawmakers would consider such drastic measures as sending people to prison for distributing or using plastic bags. Nor should they. Yet Malaysia can and should do more. For starters the country can increase financial penalties for littering and carelessly disposing environmentally harmful objects like plastic bags. That way we may be able to wean the country’s profligate citizens off their habit of littering at last.



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