By Luc Stevens

Every year, Jordanians use 3 billion plastic bags. That makes 500 per person per year, to be compared against approximately 300 or less per person in much richer countries such as Japan, Australia and the United Kingdom.

Plastic bags made of polyethylene take up to 1,000 years to decompose and, unless properly disposed of, break down into toxic substances that leak into the soil and enter the food chain. In the form of roadway or marine litter, plastic bags are also mistaken for food by animals that die as a result of eating them.

With bags already littering playgrounds, roads and Jordan’s scenic landscape, the environmental hazard is a fact, constituting a problem that will only continue to grow unless behaviour is drastically changed.

On this year’s environment day, the UN in Jordan calls upon everyone to consider the impact of their consumer choices and to actively reduce their consumption of plastic bags. If one out of five Jordanians stopped using plastic bags, it is estimated that a reduction of 43 billion bags could be achieved over the course of their lifetimes.

By using alternatives, such as fabric or paper bags, or merely by reducing the number of bags taken when shopping and packing more items in them, each person can contribute to making this reduction a reality.

There are already commendable efforts in this regard by consumers, NGOs, companies and authorities in Jordan, but responsible consumption needs to become the norm and not the exception.

In 2002, the consumption of plastic bags in Ireland dropped 90 per cent almost overnight as the government introduced a tax on plastic bags. China banned free plastic bags in 2008 and some countries like Bangladesh, Rwanda, Botswana, Tanzania, South Africa, Singapore, parts of Canada and western India have taken it even further by banning plastic bags altogether. While these are forceful solutions, many countries have also successfully reduced their consumption through companies and consumers voluntarily imposing fees and reusing bags when going shopping.

There are different methods to address the environmental hazards associated with plastics, and with the awakening of global consciousness, people across the world are stepping up efforts to save the planet and preserve their own countries from the threats posed by environmental degradation.

Jordan can do it too..The government is already looking into options at policy level, and if we all take responsibility and change our ways of consumption, we will be more likely to enjoy Jordan’s beautiful nature and preserve the country’s wildlife and ecosystem for generations to come.

It does not take much. Next time you go shopping, simply say no to that extra bag or, even better, bring your own reusable fabric bag and help make a difference towards the preservation of Jordan’s environment and biodiversity.

The writer, UN resident coordinator, leads the UN agencies in Jordan and is the designated representative of the secretary-general for development operations. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times