Our planet is drowning in plastic and this currently makes it topic #1 for environmental news. Everyone sees it, everyone talks about it and yet the convenience of the product makes it hard for us to leave our comfort zones and stop using it. I mean, how bad can it really be if I buy a plastic bag once in a while? What kind of impact does it have if I use a small plastic straw for my Cocktail? And how else should I brush my teeth if not with a plastic toothbrush? I can't change anything as an individual anyway so why even try?
These things have enormous impacts on our environment but many people still ignore them. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)¹ half of all plastic produced is designed to be used only once and then thrown away. These are the so-called single-use plastics. Due to this, we produce about 300 million tonnes of plastic waste every year and it is estimated that since the 1950s about 60% of the plastic produced has ended up in either landfills or the natural environment while only 9% has been recycled.
This is a dangerous development which I observe on a daily basis here in Montenegro. Plastic waste is everywhere - it hangs on trees and floats through rivers, slowly making its way into the ocean and inevitably ending up in our food chain.
According to the Montenegrin Statistical Office (MONSTAT)² 521 kg of municipal waste were produced per person in 2017. This is 13 kg more compared to 2013.³ Only 1% of this waste was recycled. However, these numbers certainly do not include illegally dumped waste so the actual number is estimated to be a lot higher.
There seems to be a lack of awareness of the issue in Montenegro – you get a plastic bag for every little thing you buy, even if it's only a small package of chewing gum. Everything is packed in plastic and no one really seems to care. I still get confused looks at times I refuse a plastic bag and show that I've brought my own bag made of fabric. This doen't mean that there haven't been attempts to raise awareness. For instance a billboard campaign worked on tackling the issue by promoting alternatives to plastic. The launch of the campaign was very recent so the impact cannot be assessed yet. Anyway, big changes have yet to be made.
The world is slowly waking up to the problem and governments are starting to act. The fact that Montenegro wants to join the EU in the near future gives hope that the government will finally pass legislations that can stop plastic pollution. And there is another light at the end of the tunnel: the NGO Zero Waste Montenegro (ZWMNE)⁵ committed its work to tackle the waste management problem in Montenegro and promoting the circular economy. For this cause, ZWMNE initiated a petition to ban single-use plastic bags. This petition was signed by more than 3.000 people and then handed over to the Ministry for Sutsainable Development and Tourism (MORT). Due to this public pressure, MORT planned on passing a new law to ban single-use plastic bags by the end of 2018. Now we're already a month into 2019, and nothing has happened yet. Like most things in Montenegro, the process is prolonged, and it's not foreseeable whether the law will actually pass.
Still, the biggest problem in Montenegro is that people don't care enough because of the lack of awareness about the topic. This is why awareness raising through education is crucial. More resources need to be invested in this sector in order for people to realise how dangerous our plastic addiction has become and how easy it actually is to kick this habit.⁶
If we don't act now and make significant changes to our lifestyles then our blue planet will soon be renamed plastic planet and leave future generations without hope.
¹ UNEP (2018): Our planet is drowning in plastic pollution. https://www.unenvironment.org/interactive/beat-plastic-pollution/
² MONSTAT (2018): Komunalni otpad u Crnoj Gori, 2017. godina. http://www.monstat.org/userfiles/file/otpad/2017/Saopstenje%20Komunalni%20otpad%202017.pdf
³ Eurostat (2016): Environment in the EU. Each person in the EU generated 475 kg of municipal waste in 2014. https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/documents/2995521/7214320/8-22032016-AP-EN.pdf
⁶ UNEP (2018): Exploring the potential for adopting alternative materials to reduce marine plastic litter. http://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/25485/plastic_alternative.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y