A journey to green economy begins with “greening” your behavior

April 2, 2020

Volha Chabrouskaya, UNDP-EU "Ecomonitoring" Project Manager, UNDP in Belarus

Picture by UNDP Belarus

The ongoing COVID-19 crisis revealed new challenges in fighting plastics. While many governments across the world ordered the closure of non-life sustaining businesses, plastic manufacturing continues operations due to widespread use of plastics in medicine, especially for the production of surgical masks.

This is a very important issue as Belarus is leading in transition from “brown” to “green” economy in the region due to the regulatory framework established, and several pilots demonstrating ecological, economic and social benefits implemented to demonstrate “green” economy principles in place.

Collective efforts are the key to success, and with this in mind, I am proud to be part of and lead the unified Plastic Platform – the first of this kind in Belarus. Since the Platform’s launch in December 2019, we kicked off number of new partnerships with universities and retail chains and laid the groundwork for launching more in the future.

Everyone in the platform understands the importance of working together and welcomes constructive and frank dialogue to navigate through this complex challenge. I believe the Platform can help come up with innovative solutions for transforming the ways we use plastics. The Platform has been in operation for four months now and the main takeaway I can make from working in it is that there is no shortage of innovations and resources when it comes to fighting single-use plastic. The Platform unites those who pioneer successful ideas and those who can take these ideas further amplifying them nationwide for social good.

Only having passed through the whole process from introduction of the words “green economy” at the national level to the practical results of “green” economy in work, I understand that the primary chain in the whole process as an individual.

Remember the old mantra “refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle”? To follow it, we need to start with ourselves by “greening” our own behavior. We are evolving from “brown” to “green” economy, and now are on out path towards reducing the usage of single-plastic products and packaging.

A staggering eight million tonnes of single-use plastic annually end up in the world's oceans. It is scary to accept but by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Every minute one million plastic drinking bottles are purchased globally, while up to 5 trillion single-use plastic bags are used every year. Half of all produced plastic is used only once. The issue of plastics is multifaceted and can’t be considered and addressed overnight. Initially plastic was invented to make our life easier… However, it quickly turned to be one of the biggest challenges to environment and human health.

Recently Environmental group Oceans Asia draw the attention to the masses of surgical masks they found on a beach near Hong Kong. This new development can have a devastating impact on the environment, considering the fact that billions of people wearing one to two masks per day, the amount of trash generated is going to be huge.

There are a lot of players at the “plastic” market, and all of them pursue their own interests and demands.

According to the Ministry of Antimonopoly Regulation and Trade of the Republic of Belarus, 10 large Belarusian retail chains currently estimate the annual turnover of plastic packaging in the amount of about 1.1 billion units (9% of the volume of total packaging production in Belarus).

It is obvious that producers need to invest more and re-equip their production cycles to find ecologically friendly alternatives to plastics. Retailers and food and beverages industry need to find new solutions for plastics packaging. I see “zero” waste concept as an excellent opportunity, but I there are only very limited number of successful cases of “zero” waste businesses in Belarus. Moreover, there is no even clear understanding what are the best biodegradable products that can replace plastics, and what is the price of the transition to new production and delivery models for the country’s economy. It is obvious that Belarus is at the very beginning of its journey towards breaking its plastic stranglehold. Today Belarus processes only 30% of its consumed plastic.

Picture by UNDP Belarus

So many issues to be addressed and the solutions to be found... I think it is a high time to understand the real impact of plastics on our life and to start change the ways we behave, produce and consume. I recall that thirty years ago, household waste was composed mostly of food waste, paper and glass. Today, Belarus is addicted to plastics, especially packaging. There are 9+ million people live in the country and every Belarusian throws away at least about 400 plastic bags and 100 plastic bottles a year.

What was my personal response to this alarming trend? Recently I have designed an action plan to fight single-use plastic in my daily life. The top lines of my plan call for phasing out single-use plastic bags while going shopping, separate plastic collection, and spreading a word about the benefits of single plastic free life among my relatives, friends and colleagues.