Today I wanted to report some recent good news, good for the environment at least, and look at the effects this is likely to have on the people, the country and the environment in general. In a surprising upturn of theme from road traffic accidents and general corruption to one that is more of an eco theme, the Cambodian government announced this week a new law that will see a ban on small plastic bags and an overall charge on shopping bags by the end of the year.
According to a spokesperson from a local NGO who have assisted the government with this new initiative, it ‘will ban the production and importing of plastic bags smaller than 25 cm wide and thinner than 0.03 cm, and require supermarkets to charge 500 riel (or about $0.13) for every bag used at the checkout’.
As is usually the case in Cambodia, the reasons for this new change given by some Cambodian officials have been quite comical. “Plastic bags can also cause traffic accidents when they fly into the faces of drivers. They cover people’s eyes so they can’t see the roads” which, of course, is a sterling point.
It remains to be seen just how the new law, which is basically intended to ‘wake-up’ customers and hopefully change consumer habits, goes down with the people of Cambodia.
Upon checking, I discovered that as much as 10 million plastic bags are used daily in Phnom Penh alone and a good portion of that, as I’ve seen with my own eyes, is not used at all, simply taken out of the shop and dropped straight on the floor outside, without a second though. Cambodia is a country that is renowned for having a unique flair for littering, and the locals have long mastered the art of ‘losing one’s grip’. Some keen observers say they can do it with their eyes closed.
Banning bags altogether is a very good start, as it completely removes the golden opportunity of non-compliance. Charging for bags is also a genius move, as it will surely trigger a classic feet-stuck-in-the-concrete moment when customers arrive at the checkout. The general, more serious concern though is whether or not the supermarkets will play ball. Many supermarkets here are owned or at least part owned by the Chinese, who like to think that they know best, and often do when it comes down to city business practices. It’s rumoured that many of the supermarkets will soften the blow for the first six to twelve months by absorbing the cost, giving the locals a chance to brace themselves. This goes hand in hand with not overwhelming their customers with a sudden shock, as many of them would simply not come back, a scenario that’s just not worth the risk for many of the smaller outlets.
To some people, Cambodia is a hundred years behind the developed world, to many Cambodians, life has changed very little in almost the same amount of time. However you choose to look at it, making laws like this is a positive step forward for any country as the world moves in to trickier and more responsible times in terms of the modern threats of global warming.
What’s the Point?
As with most changes, a good proportion of the public usually react with something along the lines of ‘Why bother?’ or ‘It won’t make any difference’. But we’ve seen over many years that a little, does in fact go a long way. Unlike plastic that is. While thin plastic bags are generally not as robust as plastic bottle they still play a huge part in negatively affecting the environment. There have been may estimates over the years, but it’s commonly agreed upon that plastic bags (once disposed of) will take decades or up to a hundred years to decompose. Even then, there will be traces left for a lot longer, possibly forever.
So making such changes like this, however small it may seem to the common consumer on a standard shopping trip, has a huge potential of bringing about positive change, or at least in keeping the situation contained somewhat.
At then end of the day, it’ll be a good year before any of this takes effect. If you’re a little panicked by all this however, and want to get ahead of the rest by taking advantage of superb deals on used shopping bags, take a look at http://www.for-sale.co.uk/shopping-bag.