Analysis: EMELDA MUSONDA
ON MONDAY, Government announced a ban on the use of plastic carrier bags and other plastic-related materials below 30 microns in thickness.
This followed the signing into law of the Environment Management Regulations Statutory Instrument (SI) number 65 of 2018.
The ban, which applies to manufacturing, trading and commercial distributors of packaging materials, is certainly a step in the right direction.
The ban is actually long overdue and an inevitable action if we are to abate the harmful impact of plastic waste on our environment and life.
Plastic bags and other plastic goods have been a part of our lives for many years because of their ease, cheapness and convenience.
However, due to their non-biodegradable nature, they cause a hazardous impact on the environment.
Plastic shopping bags are one of the most common types of litter both on land and water bodies. In Zambia, and particularly the capital city, Lusaka, plastic litter has become an eyesore to the beauty of the city.
One just needs to take a walk through the central business district or Lusaka’s largest trading market, Soweto, to confirm this.
In the recent years, Zambia has suffered floods during the rainy season. One of the undisputable contributing factors is blocked drainages caused by plastic waste. This is because plastic does not decompose and therefore accumulates into a mass that blocks the flow of water in drainage systems.
Plastic shopping bags have also been proved to pose health risks to human populations. This is because the manufacturing of plastics involves many chemical compounds such as additives, in particular plasticisers, which are dangerous to human health and the environment.
During the life cycle and as they degrade, plastics also leach toxins into water supplies and the environment.
Bearing in mind the potential impacts and risks generated by these products in the environment and for humans, the ban imposed by Government is the way to go.
Moreover, Zambia is not the first country to take this route. South Africa was the first country in Africa to impose the ban in 2003. Rwanda followed suit in 2008 and today, Rwanda is the cleanest country in Africa while its capital, Kigali, is the most pristine city in the world. Kenya imposed the ban in 2017 and Uganda in 2018.
As Zambia walks the path, she has the privilege to draw lessons from the other countries that have gone ahead on how to get the desired results from the ban.
Looking at Rwanda’s achievement in the area of cleanliness, Zambia can certainly draw a lot of inspiration and lessons.
While the ban is a welcome move, there is need to provide viable and cost-effective alternatives.
It is hoped that at this stage when a ban has been effected, Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA) and plastic manufacturers are already engaging on alternatives.
It is commendable that some chain superstores like Woolworths and Food Lover’s are already moving with time and have started implementing use of biodegradable carrier bags. This is the way to go for all other businesses.
The public should also be encouraged to resort to reusable cotton bags when doing their shopping.
Under the current ban, the plastics which this law allows are thick and not cheap, thereby even retailers will ration the giving of plastics. So the public will need to fall back on reusable cotton carrier bags, which can last for a longer period.
In the 80s, the use of woven baskets was very common. Perhaps this could be another alternative to consider. However, those who manufacture such will need to be more creative to suit the modern trends as well as make them more convenient. This could actually open up doors for job creation.
When we have established more convenient and cheap alternatives, the next step should be a total ban on all plastics.
For now, we need to ensure that we walk the talk of the ban. This calls for serious and consistent enforcement on the part of ZEMA and other regulators. Otherwise, this will just be another piece of legislation gathering dust.
The public also needs to be made more environmentally aware to take responsibility by making environmental-friendly choices. This starts by each one taking stock of how many plastics they bring into their homes on a monthly basis and later on disposed of into the environment.
The responsibility to ensure that desired results are achieved from the ban rests on every Zambian resident.
The author is Zambia Daily Mail editorials editor.
Analysis: EMELDA MUSONDA