alexa Toothbrushes, straws and cigarette filters harm the environment - Daily Nation

Toothbrushes, straws and cigarette filters harm the environment

Thursday November 7 2019

Cigarette butts

Cigarette butts fill up a dustbin at the smoking zone at Uhuru Park in Nairobi. Cigarette filters form the bulk of non-biodegradable waste. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

ANITA MURAGE
By ANITA MURAGE
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As we move towards a more eco-conscious decade where we no longer litter, and decrease our greenhouse gas emissions for a cleaner and healthier environment, just how do everyday items contribute to the degradation of the environment even after we dispose of them in the ‘right’ way?

Two years ago, the government effected a ban on polythene bags, which were then a common fixture in everyday lives of citizens and harmful to the environment.

The National Environment Management Authority has since reported an 80 per cent compliance rate with the ban, overall cleanliness in most towns and an improvement in the collective attitude of Kenyans in matters of environmental consciousness.

ECO-FRIENDLY SOLUTIONS

With the largest problem tackled, how can citizens incorporate eco-friendly solutions in their homes to further decrease their carbon footprint?

Beyond the health implications of tobacco smoking, it is also detrimental to the environment. Cigarette filters, a commonly discarded item, form the bulk of non-biodegradable items. Once disposed of, they take between 18 months to 10 years to decompose, according to a February 2018 report in the science journal, Elsevier.

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They are also composed of other harmful chemicals, including nicotine, arsenic, lead and copper. The filters are often disposed of improperly and seem harmless in the presence of a single smoker, but in the global sense, over a trillion cigarette butts are disposed of each year, according to a 2019 report by American organisation, The Ocean Conservancy.

ENDANGERING WILDLIFE

They eventually end up in oceans, endangering wildlife and accumulating at the bottom of the sea.

In the local context, cigarette smoking is on the decline. According to a review of tobacco use data by Nation Newsplex in 2018, the number of Kenyans aged over 15, who use tobacco products, has declined marginally from nine per cent in 2012 to eight per cent in 2017.

At the time of the 2017 study by the National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse, about 2.2 million Kenyans were cigarette smokers.

The steady rise of the fast food industry has seen an increase in the use of plastics. Plastic straws are used every day in restaurants, homes and even on the roadside by fruit juice dealers.

An independent report by Rajapack, a European packaging solutions company, remarked that if Queen Victoria used a plastic straw at her coronation 200 years ago, the straw would still be available for display today.

Globally, communities want to phase out plastic straws and replace them with ones from compostable and reusable materials such as glass, paper, bamboo and metal.

TOOTH BRUSH

The first thing you touch every morning (after your phone) is your toothbrush. Dentists recommend that you change your toothbrush every three months.

According to a report by National Geographic, an estimated 23 billion toothbrushes would be disposed of annually if everyone around the world were to follow this advice. These would take about 400 years to decompose and would likely end up at the bottom of the sea, far from the sunlight that would aid its decomposition. Some of these end up in the bellies of wildlife in the sea, causing them grievous harm.

The global movement to replace the plastic toothbrush has adapted a design that is both sustainable on the production end and kind to the environment.

ANTIBACTERIAL

Bamboo handles have replaced plastic ones as it is an exceptionally fast-growing plant and antibacterial by nature. According to a report by Colgate, they can also be recycled easily, as they take about six months to degrade.

One Kenyan is on a mission to provide citizens with sustainable solutions that lower their carbon footprint. Nelly Gesare, owner and founder of Greenthing Kenya, says her journey has inspired others to adopt eco-friendly approaches to daily life.

Ms Gesare provides eco-friendly products to phase out plastics. She sells bamboo toothbrushes, metal and glass straws, multipurpose scrubbing brushes and bamboo and cotton ear swabs.