WHEN millions of Tanzanians have forgotten the painful sight of plastic carriers that used to fly and litter streets, float on flooding waters and kill cattle of roaming pastoralists, the National Environment Management Council (NEMC) says shrewd manufacturers are preying on unsuspecting small traders by producing, distributing and selling to them tube plastic bags they have all along used to sell nuts and condensed water.
Of late, the council realised that dishonest manufacturers were producing big carriers and pushing them in the market, sometimes giving them free of charge.
“What these illicit producers of tube plastic bags are doing amounts to putting banned carriers in the market through the back door,” NEMC Director General, Dr Samuel Gwamaka said early this week, explaining that the dishonest manufacturers and users of plastic wrappings were risking heavy penalties.
Dr Gwamaka was speaking to a group of environment writers who wanted to know NEMC’s position on tube plastic bags found on the market despite the ban on plastic carriers. Dr Gwamaka said NEMC on March 5 issued a statement on the issue, but the contents of that statement were sparsely reported about.
“No success is devoid of challenges,” the DG told writers as he elaborated on the March statement. “The big challenge we are facing is an increase in the number of illegal producers of tube plastic bags. Initially, it was a question of tiny plastic bags used by petty traders to sell groundnuts, baobab nuts and condensed water.
Then slowly these manufacturers have enlarged the sizes, producing tube bags of different sizes against the ban and have pushed their products into the market. Innocent shoppers are using the tube plastic carriers to carry products. What does this mean?
It means in effect that the banned plastic bags are flooding the market through the back door,” he said, warning that the law would have to take its course.
The director general highlighted the government’s concern saying: “When one reads the law that bans plastic carriers, one realises that it prohibits banned plastic carriers in all forms to be found in the market. Therefore, that these plastic wrappings are found in the market, it is because of the government’s leniency to help petty traders cope with economic hardships by getting containers at considerate prices to serve their clients.
But these wrappings are in the market against Regulation 4(b)(c), which states clearly that the law was enacted to protect human health, animal and environment against potential harmful effects of the banned plastic materials.”
Dr Gwamaka explained that a post-ban survey by NEMC has revealed that many carriers in the market have not been authorised by the Tanzania Bureau of Standards (TBS).
“They have no seals, have no labels and this is against the terms of Regulation 3.” Abuse of government’s leniency and its considerate position will neither help producers of the banned bags nor small entrepreneurs because finally the plastic wrappings will have to go.
The DG said stubborn manufacturers, distributors and users would have themselves to blame when the law takes its course.
Explaining the good intention of the law, Dr Gwamaka said Regulation 6 allowed the use of plastic wrappings “only when it is ascertained that the use of the plastic wrapping is unavoidable, as amplified by Regulation 3 which states that the necessity to use plastic must seek to protect and sustain the quality of the product or prevent the product from damage.”
The DG told the audience that even under that situation, the products enjoying that privilege “must carry the seal and label before they are sold, distributed or put in the market.” Dr Gwamaka explained that the survey revealed that some children chew tube plastic wrappings after taking baobab nuts or sweetened condensed water.
“That habit results in children swallowing tiny bits of plastic.” Therefore, the DG explained, the damage to the consumers’ health, damage to the environment caused by the use of plastic invalidated reasons behind the government’s leniency and compassion.
He noted further that Tanzania had alternative materials for making plastic wrappings which petty traders used to serve their clients. “Petty traders must switch to alternative materials, instead of using plastic wrappings for convenience. Plastic wrappings no longer merit being in use in Tanzania,” the official said.
Dr Gwamaka explained that early this month, NEMC gave users of plastic wrapping a one-month grace period to switch to non-plastic wrappings. “After this grace period, no plastic wrappings should be seen in the market because they are unlawful,” he emphasised.