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Environmental concerns can be as simple as seeing somebody dumping trash on that vacant lot down the street. Each individual should do his or her part to help the Earth when they can. There are issues beyond our direct control, of course. Multinational corporations and national governments may choose economic gain over the environment. We can lobby lawmakers ourselves or through groups that share our interests in hopes of the greenest possible outcome.

Recently, a headline caught my eye. A New York Times article began, “Big oil proposes to flood Africa with plastic through a trade deal that weakens Kenya’s rules on plastics and on imports of American trash.” (Aug. 30). When I was in school, I remember the debate surrounding what became NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) though I do not recall any environmental concerns being voiced. In the more than two decades since the deal between the U.S., Canada and Mexico became reality, numerous relationships have been forged to facilitate favorable American trade. If approved, would the Kenyan negotiation really benefit everyone?

According to the Economic Times, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta wants a deal. However, his country’s environmental groups are worried because they have been working to reduce plastic use and waste.

When people think of the oil industry, the gas pump is foremost in mind. Prices for crude oil and fuel for our vehicles have dropped, cutting into company profits. As for what else comes from that fossil fuel source, the majority of plastic is still sourced from virgin oil. Although recycling has made headway it is still more expensive and complicated to make a new pop bottle from used plastic than refined oil. An Aug. 31 New York Times article highlighted the oil industry’s investment in churning out new plastic. Companies have spent more than $200 million on chemical and manufacturing plants in the U.S. in the last ten years. In 2019, U.S. exporters shipped more than 1 billion pounds of plastic waste to 96 countries, including Kenya. Much of the waste is the hardest to recycle plastics, the article emphasized.

Both Kenya and the U.S. business community have refuted claims published in the Financial Times that an industry group representing the world’s largest chemical makers and fossil fuel companies is lobbying to influence U.S. negotiations with Kenya, to reverse its strict limits on plastics -- including a tough plastic-bag ban, according to a recent article in The Star.

Environmentalists have fought to enact and sustain laws for decades that benefit the Earth. Whether corporations are actively lobbying or not, governments such as Kenya’s should tow the line and hold onto environmental gains.

Global plastic use is forecast to rise over the next generation. The oil industry bears responsibility to mitigate the versatile material’s effect on the planet. A much greater percentage of plastics could be recycled through support of corporations who demand used materials instead of oil then market it as such. The paper industry has been successful in showing how much of your cardboard and paperboard boxes come from recycled materials. As consumers, the best way to reduce the amount of plastics created/oil pumped is to reduce demand. Drink from reusable containers whenever possible. Pack groceries into fabric bags from home or choose paper over plastic at the check out. Use glass, which is easier to recycle. Buy products made from recycled plastic. And, recycle the plastic you use. At Keep Alliance Beautiful we gladly accept items labeled as Numbers 1-7 and a range of other plastics, such as shopping bags through our Hefty Energy Bag program.

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