NDANGWA MWITTAH, Choma
A CLEAN and healthy environment is in the interest of all citizens. The failure to use plastic bags responsibly means that the parties involved in the production value chain – manufacturers, importers, distributors, retailers and consumers – are denying Zambians their right to a clean environment.
According to some statistics, over one trillion plastic bags are produced every year with less than one percent of them being recycled.
Further research has revealed that it takes roughly about 10 to 1,000 years for one plastic bag to fully break down.
In short, plastic has a long lifespan.
This long lifespan causes land pollution as landfills are burdened with non-biodegradable plastic bags – they are also extremely light, which makes it easy for wind to carry them to different places such as rivers, dams and drainages which, in turn, results in further pollution of water and most commonly drainage blockage.
Whereas burning of a plastic bag or indeed anything plastic causes not only air pollution but also poses a health risk, there are also other problems that arise from their use and mostly their disposal.
These include groundwater contamination and even soil infertility as argued by agriculturists, through plastic bags that find their way deep into the ground.
These are but just a few of the many threats posed by plastic bags.
In June 2008, China imposed a total ban on the use of plastic carrier bags from shops, but instead encourages paper bags.
Whereas in Africa, countries such as South Africa, Morocco, Uganda, Somalia, Rwanda, Botswana, Kenya and even Ethiopia also have total bans in place, Zambia, however, is still yet to come up with a piece of legislation to that effect.
While the lawmakers are still pondering the move, Food Lover’s Market, a leading chain store, has taken a step.
It has introduced a ‘No plastic bag day’.
How will it work exactly?
On this day, all Two Brothers, Food Lover’s Market stores, will not be dispensing free plastic bags at the tills.
Instead, customers are encouraged to carry with them their own bags – be it plastic bags or reusable shopping bags. A limited number of free paper bags and cardboard boxes will be made available on that day.
“In the event that we have customers that would rather opt for plastic bags, they will be on sale for K2. This is a proactive step to limit any negative consequences of our day-to-day operations and raise awareness towards the pollution and waste caused by plastic bag usage,” says Anne Nyirenda, a sales and marketing executive for the store.
Similarly, some retail outlets in Singapore have what they call ‘Bring your own’ plastic campaign, also aimed at curbing environmental degradation.
The only difference with the Singaporean stores is that there is an incentive in form of discounts for anyone that turns up with their own plastic bags.
Ms Nyirenda says as the store constantly seeks new innovations to create a positive environmental impact, it understands and embraces its responsibility to run its business in the most sustainable way possible.
The first of such a day was on September 19, 2017.
“We are enthusiastic that ‘No plastic bag day’ will be synonymous with our brand and our intentions are to make it a regular event,” she says.
“While plastic bags are yet to be banned in Zambia, our aim is to lead by example through giving our customers the tools and support that they need to create a positive environmental footprint through this bold step,” she says.
There has been calls from some sections of the public to effect a total ban on the use of plastic bags.
A Livingstone-based conservationist, Benjamin Mibenge, recently called on Government to consider coming up with a law to ban the use of plastic bags in Zambia.
“These plastics are a major contributor of refuse in the waste and Government should come up with a policy to ban it,” he was quoted as saying.
The Wildlife and Environmental Conservation Society of Zambia (WECSZ) is also among those calling for a plastic bag ban.
“Given the background of the effects of increased and indiscriminate use of plastic bags, there is a need to ban plastic bags to avoid further health and environmental effects,” says Joseph Chikolwa, the president of the society.
Mr Chikolwa adds: “However, to successfully enforce this, there is need of a process that will help identify alternative measures for plastic bags.”
Edward Mwang’amba, another conservationist, says, “In one neighbouring nation, in supermarkets the buyer is asked if they want or need a plastic carrier bag and it is charged. So those who are ‘wise’ will not get the plastic bag, and they get to save their cash and will have their own carrier or recycled plastic carrier bag. If it costs me, maybe I might be a bit more responsible.”
Currently, there is no law to ban the use of plastic bags in Zambia although there is an Environmental Management Act (EMA) No 12 of 2011 which is silent on the use of plastics. What it suggests in Section 58 (4), however, is a reduction in the thickness of plastics.
“When you look at syringes in hospitals, water tanks, big water pipes in PVC form, they help, so it is not correct to say plastics must be banned but the packaging type, which mostly happens in supermarkets,” says Chrispin Simwanza, principal inspector at the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA).
The agency has, however, drafted the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policy which will compel producers of plastic materials to remove them from the environment for proper disposal.
Under the EPR policy, producers will have significant responsibility to ensure that post-consumer products such as plastic bottles are treated or disposed of properly.
Or simply put, perhaps we should start paying for these bags again.