October 29, 2011

Total ban on plastic bags

Tanzania will soon make a total ban on the manufacture and trade in all kinds of plastic bags. The government is in the final stages of amending the Prohibition of Plastic Bags Regulations 2006, which would only need the Cabinet approval to effect the ban aiming at curbing the use of disposable plastic bags that have become a menace to the environment. The country minister in the Vice President's office (Environment), Dr Terezya Luoga Huvisa, told that key features would include hefty fines and a prohibitive jail sentence for violators.

She said the government thought the current control measures had failed to curb the environmental degradation associated with chocking of polythene bags. "Once the relevant regulations are amended and effected plastic bags will no longer be seen in the market," said Dr Terezya Huvisa. She said the ban plan involved comprehensive and wide consultations within the government and the National Environment Management Council, whereby the efforts had the backing of the Prime Minister's Office. The drastic measure will mean that manufacturing, importing, selling or using plastic bags would be outlawed and considered a criminal offence. Experts say various authorities have for many years failed to restrict the use of polythene bags of 30 microns and below as stipulated by law.
The bags are considered disastrous because they take up to 1000 years to degrade and the state wants to encourage and promote safer material. The manufacture and supply of the products is a multibillion industry, employing thousands of people. It also remits billions in terms of tax payments to government coffers. Owners of shopping malls, supermarkets and hundreds of small businesses which hand out thousands of plastic bags for free would likely feel the pinch when the ban takes effect.

Minister Huvisa said that manufacturers would be given enough time to change into other businesses and phase out the production of the harmful polythene. Environment experts estimated that eight billion bags were being used annually in Tanzania. However people's awareness on the use, disposal and the effect of the substance to the environment was still very low. Minister Huvisa said this time around the ban would be strictly enforced and any economic excuses advanced by beneficiaries would not be entertained. "The government is spending huge amounts of money to restore the environment degraded by plastic bags," she told this paper during the exclusive interview. "There is no justification to promoting the economy at the expense of our environment," she said adding that the menace was to blame for blocked drainage systems and disease outbreaks. "Health wise, it is not advisable to wrap up food items in polythene bags because of the chemicals that make up plastic," she cautioned.

Director of Environment in the VP's office, Dr Julius Ningu said that manufacturers have in most cases advanced such reasons as creation of employment and paying tax to the government to defend their business but the effect they posed to the environment was far harmful. This would not be the first time Tanzania introduces a ban on disposable plastic bags. In 2006 the government introduced an outright ban on disposable plastic bags of thickness between 30 and 65 microns. The measure that was announced by then Vice President Dr Ali Mohamed Shein declared a partial ban on plastic bags and placed Tanzania among "most aggressive" African countries in the fight against plastic bags blight.
Rwanda was the only East African country to pass a total ban on plastic bags in 2008, and replaced them with paper bags. Shops have since been banned from providing plastic bags to their customers and police reportedly stop plastic-bag users in the streets. Tanzania however failed to sustain the war as it proved difficult to administer due to several challenges, including illegal importation of the banned bags through its highly porous borders by some unscrupulous traders. According to the director of Environmental Compliance and Enforcement at the NEMC, Dr Robert Ntakamulenga, it was difficult for the layman to tell which of the bags were illegal. He also said that enforcers particularly from local government authorities did not have microns gauge meters. "So even if they take people to court, it was very difficult to prove the microns. So the operation was halted by lack of skills, equipments and personnel. It was an enforceable operation," Mr Ntakamulenga said in an interview. He said lack of cooperation among key stakeholders also added to their woes.

"The operation was considered the responsibility of NEMC alone. There was no infrastructural support. Other regulatory agencies like the Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA), the police and local government authorities did not fully participate to enforce the ban so we were overwhelmed," he admitted, adding the only thing left was a total ban. (The Citizen)

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