Let’s forget forever use of plastic bags

GOOD news announced by the Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa in Dodoma this week is that Tanzania plans to ban the production, importation, sale and use of all single-use plastic bags by 1st June this year, to help tackle pollution from non-biodegradable waste.

In the past I have written extensively about the hazards of using plastic bags and the danger they pose in environment.

It is unfortunate that Tanzania has become the latest country in East Africa to make a formal commitment to phase out single-use non-biodegradable plastics, which have been identified by the United Nations as one of the world’s biggest environmental challenges.

Environmentalists say that of the 9 billion tonnes of plastic the world has produced, only 9 percent has been recycled, according to U.N. estimates.

Tanzania now joins more than 60 other countries that have banned, partly banned or taxed single- use plastic bags, including China, France, Kenya, Rwanda and Italy.

We should remember that in August 2017, Kenya introduced one of the world’s toughest bans on plastic bags mandating four years in prison or a fine of 40,000 US dollars for even using one.

“The regulations are ready for publication … it is possible that June 1 will mark the end of the use of plastics in the country,” Minister in the Vice president’s office (Environment) January Makamba told Parliament on Monday.

I agree with Makamba when he says that a formal announcement on the ban of single-use plastic bags in Tanzania would likely be made later this month.

We quite know that plastic bags are considered to affect the environment by blocking sewerage and water drainage infrastructure, causing floods during rainy seasons.

The bags also damage the ecosystems and biodiversity and endanger human health when used for packing food, especially hot ones. There is a good example to emulate here.

Eleven years ago, Zanzibar banned use of thin plastic bags which were blamed for environmental degradation and harming wildlife and currently, the archipelago use paper bags only.

Amid growing concern over damage to the islands’ fragile ecosystem, authorities announced the start of enforcement of the ban on such bags.

The regulation in Zanzibar bars the importation, distribution and sale of light plastic bags whose thickness is measured at 30 microns and below. Zanzibari offenders of the law risk jail sentences of six months, a fine of up to 2000 US dollars or both.

There have been wide awareness campaign to educate Zanzibaris about the dangers of the flimsy shopping bags, which, when discarded in the open, can pose significant threats to humans and animals.

The same case should now be implemented in Tanzania mainland. Experts say that plastic bags can provide micro-habitats for malariacarrying mosquitoes, block gutters and drains, choke farm animals and marine life and pollute the soil.

The same material can take 20 to 1,000 years to decompose, say experts. Enforcement of the ban on Zanzibar came as authorities sought to improve environmental protection on the islands, world renowned for their exotic spice- and slave-trade history as well as pristine, palmfringed beaches.

In 2005, environmentalists had warned that Zanzibar was in danger of becoming one of the world’s most environmentally endangered island chains due to unchecked disposals of raw sewage, solid waste and deforestation.

Plastic bags are one of the most visible signs of the pollution problem that extends across our planet and it is rare to see a strip of road, river bank or sea front that does not have a few plastic bags littering the environment.

The result, besides being an eyesore, is often the death of wildlife. The problems that plastic bags cause, however, do not begin and end with the littering of the environment and the filling of landfill sites.

Plastic bags are created using energy and non-renewable resources such as oil and experts say the creation of each new plastic bag sucks a little more out of the environment.

The plastic bags that people refer to when talking about the environmental problem are the lightweight disposable bags that are given away by supermarkets, markets and shops.

Heavy weight plastic bags, that can be used over and over again and which are less likely to blow away because of their weight, don’t cause as many problems. Lightweight plastic bags, that have been designed for a single use, are often given away free.

While biodegradable plastic bags are being more widely used, these are not always considered an effective solution.

Given that the main reason for disposable plastic bags is to carry purchases home from a shop, replacing these bags with other options should be easy.

In reality, however, while there is a move towards reusable bags, this is happening very slowly.

Many countries, cities and towns in the world today have introduced local bans on plastic bags and shoppers are encouraged to bring reusable bags with them when shopping.

This includes recycled bags, fabric bags, wicker baskets or specially designed ‘eco-bags’. This ban is often reported as being a great success.

Bans like this work best when the community has been involved in the decision making process and therefore feel a form of ownership of the project.

An alternative to banning plastic bags is the introduction of a bag tax. For example, Ireland introduced a bag tax and has reported a reduction in the use of plastic bags by 90 per cent.

Charging for plastic bags helps to give a focus as to whether a plastic bag is entirely necessary.

People who are against the banning of plastic bags often cite the fact that plastic bags are very low priority when all the environmental issues of concern are taken into account.

Even some green supporters are against the banning of bags, preferring instead to educate people and change habits rather than forcing the issue.

Other people refer to the fact that the banning of plastic bags simply moves the problem elsewhere. Cities that have banned plastic bags often report an increase in the sale of plastic bin bags.

Instead of plastic, paper bags are often used. I hope the government shall be tough, to make sure that plastic bags are indeed banned in our country.


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