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Three countries that are beating the UK in the anti-plastic race

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We all live plastic-dependent lives. From the plastic lining in our convenient coffee cups, to the excessive plastic packaging in our supermarkets, this material has become the foundation of our everyday activities.

Recently, there has been a proliferation of images revealing the terrible consequences of our actions. Photographs of choking marine life, videos of floating plastic garbage spread back as far as the horizon, and articles detailing the shocking figures of plastic levels and marine deaths, as well as terrifying future predictions.

It is becoming a well-known fact that our plastic use is devastating our oceans. We are slowly starting to phase out our plastic dependency as the government introduces plastic charges, restrictions and bans. Perhaps one day, our children will be shocked that we used disposable cups, Clingfilmed our sandwiches, and bought bananas in plastic bags.

However, we are not moving fast enough. Recently, UK Prime Minister Theresa May announced a national plan to ban plastic straws and cotton buds, first in England then in the rest of the UK. Our progress is slow and, while current trends focus on straws and cotton buds, we need to open our eyes to our plastic addiction.

For some international inspiration, here are three countries that have been outdoing us for years:

Rwanda

According to the Global Citizen, Rwanda “completely banned plastic bags when other countries around the world started imposing taxes on plastic bags”. The nation has had the ban in place since 2008 and it has been credited with saving the lives of Rwandans. Plastic waste blocked drains and caused flooding in Ghana, killing 150 people, and similar inafrastructure weaknesses were present in Rwanda.

The plastic ban is also said to have stimulated both the economy and the emerging ecotourism industry. The government is no longer faced with funding the complex recycling processes associated with plastic bags, and tourism has soared as Rwanda’s reputation as a clean, eco-conscious nation is becoming well-known.

Kenya

Labelled “the world’s toughest ban on plastic bags”, the Kenyan government’s legislation will punish “anyone producing, selling – or even just carrying – a plastic bag” with “up to four years’ imprisonment or fines of $40,000”.

Although this may seem radical, the ban appears to have been a success. For instance, defecating in the bags was common practice in many of Kenya’s townships but, since the ban, more and more local people are using public toilets. The ban is helping the environment to become much cleaner and the community is getting healthier in the process.

However, this ban has shaken up the economy since no cheap alternative has yet been found. There is still room for improvement so that our shift towards a greener economy is smooth. Luckily, Costa Rican research may hold the answer...

Costa Rica

In 2017, Costa Rica announced plans to become the first country in the world to have “an integrative strategy to eliminate single-use plastics”, alongside the promise to become carbon-neutral by 2021.

There is research being conducted in Costa Rica in order to find a material to replace plastic, including one “5 times more resistant than current plastic bags, capable of disintegrating itself in 18 months, and that is additionally equipped with a pesticide releasing system”. Also, it’s made out of bananas which is pretty darn cool.

As the UNDP declares, “[a]s stated in the Sustainable Development Goals, it is the responsibility of all sectors and people to ensure a balance between the social, economic and environmental realms, leaving no one behind. Faced with these new social, climatic and environmental challenges, such as the management of solid waste and its impacts on people, we believe that our experience, from a small country like Costa Rica, can become a source of inspiration for the entire world.”

It's time for the UK to up it's anti-plastic game.

Costa Rica is one of The National Student's top Destinations 2018. Find out more here. 

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