Despite a number of measures being taken by Zanzibar authorities, importers and traders are still secretly importing plastic bags which are used for shopping. The Department of Environment is sparing no efforts in making sure plastic bags stay out of Zanzibar.
"We are winning the war against use of plastic bags, the government is determined," says Ms Fatma Abdulhabib Fereji, Minister of State, First Vice- President (Environment, HIV, Drugs, and People Living with Disabilities) after almost one month of the crackdown to nab users, and importers of plastic bags.
"We all know plastic bags are terrible for the environment, but that's not the only problem, discarded plastic bags kill hundreds of marine animals every year and hurt the tourism industry," she says as she appeals to people and law enforcers to have no mercy with importers and distributors.
The Minister re-launched the campaign to discourage the use of plastics bags last month following the improved regulations of the environmental management for sustainable development Act, No 2 of 1996. "Noticeable success of the regulation was recorded in 2006 and 2007, but due to laxity of law enforcement and some weakness in the regulations, the importation, sale and use of plastic bags is now overwhelming," Ms Fatma said.
She said statistics show that between 180,000 and 560,000 plastics bags are dumped in Zanzibar daily, polluting the environment extensively. Less plastic bags are now used after re-enforcing the Act. A massive media campaign is running. Radio, television, posters, street announcement, press conferences, and leaflets send out messages across Zanzibar including the entry points emphasising the fact that plastic bags are not allowed on the archipelago.
The success so far, is accredited to officials from Department of Environment in collaboration with the police. Mr Sheha Mjaja Juma, the Director, Department of Environment told 'Daily News' that the one-month operation to wipe-out the use of plastic shopping bags is gaining progress slowly but surely.
"This is certainly something that the public is embracing, the crackdown is gaining support," Mjaja says. He adds that the measure requires visitors and retailers to use compostable plastic bags or paper bags which are friendly to the environment. "We recorded victory against use of plastic bags in the past five years, but unfortunately people resorted back to the plastic bags in 2008 due to laxity in the laws. We are now determined," he said.
Mjaja said his office is carrying out an awareness campaign about the dangers of plastic bags, saying that the goal is to encourage people to use of paper bags and sisal bags which are bio-degradable. More than 30 people have been arrested and convicted during the one-month operation against any of the following offences, manufacturing, importing, storing, distributing, and selling plastic bags. Fines range between Tsh 30,000 to Tsh 200,000 and or six-month imprisonment depending on the quantity of plastic bags involved.
The streets on the archipelagos have been littered with rubbish mainly plastic bags and bottles and Municipal Authorities could only effectively collect about a third of the waste produced daily. "We have to put the environment above everything else," Chairperson of the Zanzibar Commission of Tourism, Mr Ali Mirza, says even tourists have not been happy with the filthy environment in Stone Town and other tourist sites.
Tourism is the backbone of Zanzibar's economy contributing more than 25 per cent to the GDP, outstripping agriculture in particular spices, once the island's biggest foreign currency earner. Although the government is concerned over the negative impact of plastic bags on environment, some people are worried about the loss of tax revenue.
Zanzibar, home to about 1.2 million inhabitants, lacks the technology to recycle plastic, but imports over 35,000 tonnes annually of plastic bags pocketing about one million dollars in tax revenues. Discarded plastic water bottles pollute the environment. If the islands allowed the importation of plastic go unchecked, they will continue facing serious marine and land pollution problems.
The war to protect the environment is under a joint task force team involving the police force, Department of Environment and the First Vice-President's Office, which is in charge of the environmental portfolio. Although it may take more time to get rid of the unwanted plastic bags, the beautiful Isles will finally get back their natural sparkle.