Oman’s environment NGO calls for ban on plastic bags
October 9, 2017 | 10:13 PM
by Gautam Viswanathan / Shruthi Nair
Plastic bags have become a threat to the environment and ESO wants curbs on their use

Muscat: Oman’s environment NGO wants a ban on plastic bags.

“Plastic is not banned in Oman, but the government is working on a legislation for plastic bags,” said Yusra Jaffer, PR manager of the Environment Society of Oman (ESO).

ESO has been working hard for years to address the harmful effects of plastic on the environment.

“Recently, when Japan came up with the plastic (bag) ban, we put that up on our social media. We had a campaign back in 2008—a no plastic bag campaign. A lot of the supermarkets had started providing the option of reusable bags and we gave away a number of jute bags to a lot of customers,” she added.

“There has been a change in behaviour, but it is an issue that needs to be worked on more.”

Plastic bags are mostly handed out for free and are therefore used liberally. The average plastic bag is used for 20 minutes before being thrown away.

Even the small proportion that are re-used will eventually either end up in a landfill or as litter on land. As they are a recent invention, they do not yet known for how long they last— current estimates stand between 400 and 1,000 years.

Littering is currently a major issue, not just in Oman, but across the globe.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, for example, is a vast swathe of ocean, which consists of garbage spread across 3.5 million square kilometres, according to Ocean Cleanup, a non-profit organisation partly funded by the Dutch government, which is looking to tidy up our seas and oceans.

In an unconventional move to raise awareness towards this problem, two advertising creatives—Dan de Almeida and Michael Hughes—launched a proposal to recognise the patch as a sovereign nation, known as the Trash Isles, having even come up with mock-ups of a passport, flags, currency and stamps for this would-be nation.

They have also approached the United Nations for official statehood for the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which would make it the world’s 194th country. According to the World Bank, as of 2012, around 1.3 billion tonnes of garbage were generated per year, across the world.

“It is really sad that a lot of the public places are littered so badly. Oman is a beautiful place and people come thousands of miles to see some of our species and the beauty that we have in Oman. Littering is a simple fix. Even if we see it from a religious point of view, our religion encourages people to keep our surrounding clean. That’s definitely one thing that we need to take responsibility for,” she said.

“I think we need to think about the environment as our home. I don’t think anyone would like to litter our houses, she added. “Things like switching off electricals that are not being used are very minor small behaviour we can change in our day-to-day lives, which will impact in the long run. Turn the tap off while washing our hands.”

“We need to look at our environment as our home and the different species as members of our family.”

A manager of supermarket chain said that around 75,000 plastic bags are consumed in his branch alone, every day. “On an average we get around 15,000 visitors who take home around five bags each every day,” he said.

He was also of the opinion that charging people for bags would deter such consumption. “Though our bags are biodegradable, it will be better if they are being charged as that will reduce the consumption,” he said.

Another store manager said they are always training their packing staff at the counters to limit the use of plastic bags. “Because most customers prefer their shopping to be packed for them, we are continuously training the staff that do the bag packing, to make sure they minimise the use of bags,” he revealed.

Yet another manager of a chain of hypermarkets supported this move. “We have about 17 or 18 stores throughout Oman, and we see our customers pick up about 20,000 plastic bags a day,” he said. “Even though they are biodegradable, the move by the government to replace them is very good. “I would advise all residents in Oman to keep their country clean and green,” he added.

The effort being made in this direction was also praised by Neel Subasinghe, principal of Sri Lankan School Muscat.

“I think this is a good step by the government, but I think some essential items, which need plastic bags can still be carried in them,” he said. “On the whole, banning these plastic bags is good, especially when you think of the global environmental situation.”

“In school, we regularly teach our students to be aware of throwing litter responsibly,” he added. “Sometimes, we have themes for our classes, such as Earth Day, so we do educate our children during our environmental studies and science periods. We also conduct assemblies, especially for children from grades one to four. We ask our students to prepare presentations on the harmful effects of pollution, the harm of plastic bags, etc., so we do educate them in all of these matters.”

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