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Sierra Leone News: Jack’s Journal-Why is everything wrapped in plastic?

Ten years ago, the city of Seattle, where I have lived for the last four years, passed an ordinance that placed a $.20 (nearly Le.2,000) fee on disposable plastic and paper bags at grocery, drug, and convenience stores in an effort to reduce waste.
At that point, approximately 292 million disposable bags were being used in Seattle annually. While many of them ended up in regulated landfill that mitigated their degrading effect on the environment, many of them also ended up in the streets of the city, adding further litter and harm to the local environment. Not only are the bits of plastic unsightly as they float around city streets, but they also disrupt the habitats of small animals and add to global climate change.
In Seattle, the only option of bag that you can carry your groceries out of the store is to take a recyclable paper bag, which can either be recycled at a proper facility or from one’s home. Even in the event that the bag is left out on the street, the paper materials are much more likely to efficiently decompose—without harmful dyes—than their plastic counterparts. The only plastic bags that stores may offer to their customers are approved compostable bags, and they must be colored either green or brown.
Of course, that’s coming from a part of the States that’s known for being a bit obsessive for their recycling and waste management habits. I don’t expect other places to be quite as committed as my Pacific northwest compatriots, but I was still holding out hope for some examples of good environmental stewardship once I left for my travels.
Since I’ve been in Freetown—all of four days—I’ve bought multiple meals and asked for them to go, only to have it wrapped up in a plastic bag, which has melted or broken on two occasions. Just yesterday, I had to pay Le1,000 to bring my food home in a box that was constructed out of foil and paper products.
I felt odd about that. It’s not like I have never paid extra for disposable wares to carry my food away in, but I was disappointed to see that there was no available alternative. Not only do I wish to save some money when I can, but I’ve always been someone that’s aspired to impact the environment as little as possible. Thus, in the coming days, I aspire to buy a reusable bowl or two that I can bring with me and carry my food away with me.
And so, when I see people on the streets of Freetown, or even my co-workers at Awoko, carrying their lunch away in multiple plastic bags—at least one for their food and another for their drink—I wonder why they think it’s necessary. Some of them repeatedly utilize the same reusable plastic containers to transport their food from its source to the office, but I wouldn’t exactly call that group the majority. Perhaps it’s the fact that there hasn’t been as much publicity about the contributions of plastic bags to climate change, or maybe it’s the fact that other alternatives are downright more expensive, but clearly the willingness to change habits has not happened here in Freetown.
And, come to think of it, I don’t even want to try to figure out what happens to all of the bags of water that I’ve seen people drinking from here. I’d never seen bags of water on such a large basis before coming to Freetown, and I can’t imagine that even a quarter of them end up in a proper waste facility. The pollution that stems from these water bags, as well as the cost and prominence of plastic water bottles, has made me all the more grateful that I brought a reusable water bottle with me. Cutting down on as much plastic as possible, whether for food or water or some other means, is something that I will continue to work toward personally while also promoting more sustainable habits amongst my Sierra Leonean peers.
Jack Russillois from the University of Washington, and will be with Awoko for three months.
By Jack Russillo
Friday June 29, 2018.

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