World Environment Day 2023: Evaluating two decades of Zanzibar’s war against use of plastics

AS the world observes another Environment Day, Zanzibar, among the few first East African countries to ban single-use plastic bags used the day to evaluate its measures against the problem. In a nutshell, it was concluded as a success, but the game isn’t over!

Although small size plastic bags which were widely used for shopping in Zanzibar have relatively disappeared, after the ban on importation and use in 2006, water plastic bottles, plastic wrap for food and fabrics and other disposable plastics still litter streets, especially in the virgin beaches of Zanzibar.

Many people still throw away empty plastic packs and bottles of mineral water and juice on the streets, an indication that more efforts are still required to change consumers’ habits in regards to handling of plastics.

“Our focus is now to change the mindset and habit of people, including some visitors who litter our beaches, streets and rain water tunnels by improper disposal of the empty plastic bottles and packs,” said Mr Sheha Mjaja Juma-Director General, Zanzibar Environment Management Authority (ZEMA).

He issued the statement when taking part in a beach cleaning exercise, one of the activities lined-up to mark the Environment Day. Globally, the event was held in Corte-d’Ivoire, West Africa with support from the Netherlands government, under the theme ‘Beat Plastic Pollution.’

World Environment Day (WED) 2023 is a reminder that people’s actions on plastic pollution matters, and that the steps governments and businesses are taking to tackle plastic pollution are the consequence of this action. It is time to #BeatPlasticPollution.

Mr Juma says that despite a number of measures which have been taken by his office for almost two decades since imposing the importation restrictions, some dishonest importers and traders are still secretly importing the bags, selling and using them while dodging officers from being arrested and charged.

The ZEMA boss says “We have been applying different measures, including increased public awareness with law enforcement, how to discard water bottles and other plastic materials such as wraps and packs, while efforts are placed on promoting use of environment friendly bags.

“We have recorded admirable achievements in controlling the use of plastics, particularly the small carriers, but other plastics generated from shops, used as containers for foods and fabrics remain a challenge,” says Juma.

“Majority people know that plastic bags are terrible for the environment, but that’s not the only problem! Discarded plastic empties also kill animals and hundreds of marine creatures every year and also ‘hurt tourists’ who like enjoying, playing and walking along the beaches,” he says.

He said that the campaign to stop the use of plastics bags and improper disposal should be sustainable, as statistics show that in the past five to ten years, about one thousand tonne of banned plastic bags were confiscated and owners fined, accumulating more than 86m/- as punishment from dishonest importers.

Radio and television programs and visits to schools are being used to send the message across Zanzibar, including entry points about discouraging the use of plastic materials including bags.

Hoteliers such as Mr Khalid Omar and Julie Joel expressed their happiness about the ongoing efforts to clean beaches, because many tourists have an interest in visiting and enjoying beaches.

The Minister of State- First Vice President’s Office (responsible for environment), Ms Harusi Said Suleiman said the operation to control importation and use of small plastic bags is endless along with encouraging people to properly discard plastic bottles.

She said the campaign include carrying out a nationwide awareness initiative about the importance of planting trees and using paper bags or bags made from environmentally friendly materials.

Zanzibar, home to about 1.8 million inhabitants, lack the technology to recycle plastic, where the collected plastic bottles and other bigger plastics are broken into small bits/parts and transported to Dar es Salaam for recycling.

According to the new directives, the department of environment in collaboration with other institutions- like the police force should continue with the crackdown to nab users, importers and manufacturers of plastic bags, while also working with NGOs to clean beaches frequently.

United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) says the world, at a population of 2.5 billion in 1950s, produced 1.5 million tonnes of plastic, and with a global population of more than seven billion people, produced over 300 million tons of plastic, with severe consequences for marine plants and animals.

It is estimated that about 12.2 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean every year, while a single plastic bag can take 500 years or more to decay. About 99 percent of seabirds will have plastic in their bodies by 2050, only 14 percent of all plastic produced is recycled and that by 2050, the ratio of plastic to fish by weight will be 1:1, if workable measures are not taken.

According to a recent UNEP report, ‘Turning off the Tap’, plastic pollution could reduce by 80 per cent by 2040 if countries and companies make deep policy and market shifts using existing technologies.

“For the sake of the planet’s health, for the sake of our health, for the sake of our prosperity, we must end plastic pollution. This will take nothing less than a complete redesign of how we produce, use, recover and dispose of plastics and products that contain them,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of (UNEP).

“Plastic is made from fossil fuels – the more plastic we produce, the more fossil fuel we burn, and the worse we make the climate crisis. But we have solutions,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in his World Environment Day message. “We must work as one – governments, companies and consumers alike – to break our addiction to plastics, champion zero waste and build a truly circular economy.”

“World Environment Day helps to highlight the urgent challenges we currently face. Challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution. Plastic pollution touches on all three of those challenges,” noted Vivianne Heijnen, Netherlands’ Minister for the Environment.

He adds, “It’s crucial that we continue raising awareness, collecting best practices and ensuring commitment from all stakeholders. I hope that this edition of World Environment Day will prove to be a landmark event in our collective fight to beat plastic pollution.

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