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Information on plastic ban should continue

PRESIDENT Edgar Lungu’s national address in Parliament recently reminded everyone that Government is alive to the dangers posed by indiscriminate disposal of plastics, which is a health hazard to society.
In his address on values and principles, President Lungu stated that it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that the environment is protected.
“We all need to continuously sensitise the citizenry on reducing, re-using and recycling of plastic products. This is critical to mitigate the negative impact of the products on the environment,” President Lungu said.
To enhance implementation of the Environmental Management Act No. 12 of 2011 (EMA), Government introduced a partial ban on the use of plastics through Statutory Instrument No. 65 of 2018 on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).
“I therefore urge all of us to change our attitude towards the use and disposal of plastic products. Let us go back to using environmentally friendly packaging materials such as paper bags and re-use baskets,” President said.
The call by President Lungu highlighting the dangers of plastics pollution to the environment is a welcome one.
The need for Zambia to protect the natural capital presented by the biophysical environment cannot be overemphasised.
It is important, therefore, for citizens to play an active role in the stewardship of the environment.
However, while placing emphasis on sensitisation of the public on the dangers of plastics, we should not lose sight of the fact that we have a bigger problem in terms of provision of municipal waste management services.
We need to adopt a holistic approach to solid waste management if the partial ban on single use of plastics is to have any meaningful effect.
It is an open secret that disposable plastic shopping bags are a major source of waste and pollution to the environment.
Plastic bags are one of the most common type of litter which builds up quickly and ends up blocking drainage systems.
This is why, through the Millennium Challenge Account, new drainages are being constructed to control blockages of such waste.
Plastic shopping bags also pose health risks to human populations as they leach toxins into water supplies.
However, the decision by Government to halt the use of plastic bags, in accordance with section 58 of the Environmental Management Act No 12 of 2011, is a step in the right director.
The Extended Producer Regulations (EPR) extend the responsibility of the producer of a product or class of products to the post-consumer stage of the product or class of products.
Government will use the EPR to manage, in an environmentally sound manner, packaging materials such as plastics and their resultant waste.
It will also regulate non-returnable glass and plastic bottle, cartons, beverage cans, waste oils, pesticides or chemical containers, used tyres, electrical and electronic equipment.
However, suffice to say that the ban on plastic bags is not a general interdict on plastic bags but rather a ban on non-compliant plastic carrier bags.
According to Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA), all plastic carrier and flat bags need to adhere to the standard ZS 719 developed by the Zambia Bureau of Standards, which stipulates that plastic carrier bags need to be a minimum of 30 microns in thickness.
This means that plastic bags can still be used in Zambia but they must be compliant.
The regulation requires that a person or persons whose activities generate waste with potential to pollute the environment should employ measures essential to minimise waste through treatment, reclamation, re-use, recovery or recycling.
The ban mainly applies to anyone who manufactures, imports, trades or commercially distributes packaging materials in Zambia covered under the EPR regulations.
While some companies and shopping malls are to a large extent adhering to the ban, some are not. It is imperative, therefore, that ZEMA, the agency that is mandated to ensure that all producers, retailers and distributors of packaging materials comply with the law, intensifies its awareness campaign.
The process of raising awareness on EPR regulations should be ongoing to ensure that the practice becomes a norm.
Shopping centres are required by law to display notices regarding implementation of the EPR.
This is according to Regulation 6, which provides for display of a notice to customers.
Given that the implementation is new, notices must be displayed to inform customers of what is happening and avoid taking them by surprise.
It is consoling; however, that ZEMA is also complementing the sensitisation with other awareness campaigns, which include meetings with manufacturers of packaging materials, chain stores and the media.
A plastic bag now costs between K1.50 and K2.50, which is very expensive for customers, and going forward, Government should consider regulating the price on plastic bags.
The author is a senior reporter at Zambia Daily Mail.