Since the 1950s, plastic manufacturers have produced around 8.3 billion tons of plastic globally. There is a massive use of plastic in all aspects of life, Some of the used plastics have a very short life cycle and end up being disposed of in landfills or dumped in the sea. Also, some plastic products, such as bags, and plastic films used as packaging material, may end up littered everywhere in the terrestrial environment. Because of its physical properties, plastic waste can pose a risk to the livestock population as well as other animals that may accidentally eat it. The aim of this study is to investigate the risk associated with plastic waste littering on livestock such as Camels in one of the selected areas in the UAE, as well as examine possible solutions that can mitigate the risk of plastic littering on livestock.
Risk Management of Plastic Waste on Livestock: Case study: Sharjah’s Central Region
Authors: Athra Alkaabi , Moetaz ElSergany
*Hamdan Bin Mohammed Smart University- School of Health & Environmental Studies
Plastic waste endangers livestock, fish, and other aquatic creatures. 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic have been manufactured globally Since the 1950s. Plastic is used massively until these days to produce so many different products.
Unfortunately, the plastic ecosystem is mainly linear (plastic moves from manufacturers to consumers and after that to the trash can). This puts a burden on our waste management systems (WMS) and consumes a massive quantity of natural resources (SEC, 2018). Plastics found in all main MSW categories, packaging, and containers had the largest plastic capacity in 2018, more than 14.5 million tons (US EPA, 2017). It considers a weakness or failure in WMS because plastic waste in UAE is still existed and reached the livestock living area, and this problem has unaddressed impacts on the livestock.
There are practically no published risk assessments about this case in the UAE that assist to raise this issue to the responsible stakeholders.
Observations from citizens regarding plastic waste impacts on the animals that they owned.
UAE population is increasing which means more plastic waste production.
Almost no open data available about plastic products quantities, the sources of the plastic waste, risks of these wastes, management of these wastes, causes that these wastes reach livestock living areas, etc.
Challenges in altering all societal groups' behavior habits (ex. Littering issues).
Plastic waste affects the economy and contradicts UAE sustainability agendas.
The UAE has a large livestock population. Camels are believed to reach 450,000 in the country, while sheep and goat herds reach over 5 million, making them an essential component of both food security and the country's economy (MOCCAE, n.d.). Almost every household in Sharjah’s Central Region owns livestock. Their livestock is being harmed because of plastic waste.
This case highlighted the failure/ weakness in the WMS results from a failure to pay attention to this problem, recognizing the impacts, identifying the causes, and managing them. Plastic waste led to harmful impacts on livestock that might lead to livestock leg amputation, starving because of plastic accumulation in the stomach, or death because of suffocating. Camels in the UAE suffer harm at a 1% mortality rate owing to ingesting plastic waste (Eriksen et al., 2021). Microplastic gets into cells and tissues, where it can cause harm to people who fed these livestock products (Rochman et al., 2013). Owners are affected economically because livestock is part of their food sources. Also, these might impact their income since they sell the livestock. Moreover, people might be affected by plastic waste through the food chain (feeding on livestock that fed on plastics wastes). Ingested rumen plastic particles release toxins into the rumen fluid, which can eventually enter our food chain via meat and dairy products (Kunisue et al., 2004). As said before livestock play a vital role in food security and the national economy.
A primary study was carried out to investigate the effect of plastic waste on livestock, the possible causes, and solutions in September 2021 by using an online survey. The survey was sent to telegram groups to the residents of Sharjah’s Central Region.59 responses were received and 36 (61%) of the respondents were livestock owners.
The main study results showed that:
86% of the respondent answered that they strongly agreed that they think that plastic waste causes great harm to the animals and livestock that live in Sharjah's Central Region.
56% of the livestock owners responded that they found plastic waste around livestock husbandry areas.
58% of the livestock owners responded that the plastic waste increase in the winter season because of the camping activities.
61% of the livestock owners responded one or more of their livestock were injured because of plastic wastes.
58% of the livestock owners responded that one or more of their livestock died because of plastic wastes.
Existence of plastic products in the UAE market:
The problem eventually exists because of the availability of plastic products in the market, especially non-biodegradable products. Plastic is a low-cost, long-lasting material that may be used in a wide range of products, including packaging, plastic containers, straws, and plastic bags. (WCC, n.d.).
For example, UAE uses 11 billion plastic bags per year (World Government Summit,2019 as cited in Paulsen, 2020). These plastic bags are one of the plastics wastes that reach livestock husbandry areas.
Littering in the UAE is one of the environmental issues despite the fines and penalties being between 500 to 1000 dirhams for who caught littering.
Do the fines and penalties are considered very low?
Dose pro-environmental behaviors in society are not developed very well.
Do the trash bins are not enough? Do these bins sealed enough to prevent waste from escaping?
Do the authorities’ regulations aren’t strong enough to stop this issue?
Or are there other causes for littering needed to address to stop this behavior?
Answers to these questions will help to eliminate one of the causes of the failure in plastic WMS that has impacts on livestock.
Campers are accountable for a considerable amount of plastic waste in the desert (Eriksen et al., 2021). Lack of surveillance and inspections in this area, leading that the campers and travelers leave their wastes. Also, the wastes travel with the wind and stuck in the fences of livestock living areas.
Waste escaping from trash bins and landfills:
If plastic waste is not handled properly, it can accumulate not just in urban areas but also in far open areas owing to the wind. It also piles up in plants and grassy areas (Ramaswamy & Sharma, 2011). Unsealed trash cans and unwell-managed landfills can increase the presence of plastic waste in livestock living and grazing areas.
The following figure 2 shows the percentage of responses of the total participants in the primary study upon the following question regarding the possible causes:
So, the leading possible cause of the suggested cause to the respondents was littering.
Figure 2 depicts solutions that incorporate all these sectors from "upstream" to "downstream," with the goal of zero plastic trash entering the ocean. This figure is also valid for the terrestrial environment that helps to reduce the plastic waste impacts on livestock and their environment. In this case, the top priority should be waste reduction and material conservation, followed by cycle resource use and the eradication of the idea of waste. A significant part of this is changing the perception of plastic as a waste material to one of the useful elements in a circular economy (Worm et al., 2017).
For example, Prata et al. (2019) stated that at the manufacturing (Production)level, voluntary and mandatory actions must be implemented to limit the usage of plastic goods by considering substitutes, improving product design to make it more durable, prohibiting specific forms of plastic, and so on.
One of the leading examples: The campaign "Netherlands as Circular Hotspot," which began in 2016, attempts to promote the Netherlands as a global leader in the circular economy. One of the top priorities in the campaign is the use of renewable (recycled and biobased) plastics by 2050 (McCarville, 2019). Another local example: In 2021, Abu Dhabi will ban single-use plastic bags.
Developing littering prevention strategy: such as The Litter Prevention Strategy for Western Australia 2020–2025, developed by the Keep Australia Beautiful Council, seeks to reduce litter by 30% in five years as shown in the following link: shorturl.at/ltGR5
Government role & Regulations:
The government is responsible for supervising and collecting data on plastics manufacture, usage, and disposal. This data may be employed to develop waste reduction policies, strategies, and systems (Ncube et al, 2021).
Regulations can be applied to minimize sources, restore ecosystems, and identify safer alternative products if the materials are recognized as hazardous (Rochman et al., 2013). Most of the research on the harm caused by plastic impacts is based on studies of marine creatures (Eriksen et al., 2021). More studies are needed to prove the impact of plastic waste on animals to improve and establish regulations. The government should finance both basic and applied research in this field (Ncube et al., 2021).
Collaboration between all stakeholders plays a major role in solving the issue:
Figure 3 shows the direction of the relationship between stakeholders including additional recommendations and solutions:
Preventing waste escaping from trash bins and landfills:
Many waste management innovations, such as Robot Recyclers, Fill Level Sensors, and waste capturing have shown to be highly effective in managing wastes (Geisheker, 2019).
Table 1 shows the percentage of responses of the total participants in the primary study upon the following question regarding the possible solutions:
We can’t prevent plastic products. The suggested plastic waste management solution could be effective if the causes and data regarding the case were provided correctly. The results of this study showed that more than 50% of livestock owners emphasize that their livestock is being impacted by plastic waste. Participants in this study pointed out that littering is one of the major causes and strict laws and regulations can be the best solution. Further studies in the field of plastic waste environmental impact assessment are needed to produce evidence that motivates all stakeholders to collaborate and take immediate action.
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