ZIO MWALE, Lusaka
PLASTIC bags are a major environmental challenge in Zambia and efforts by respective authorities to address this problem seem not to yield the expected results.
On a daily basis, tonnes of plastics bags end up at the only landfill at Chunga dumpsite while the uncollected plastic bags are found literally everywhere in drainages and roads around the city of Lusaka.
Elsewhere countrywide, the situation is similar as indiscriminate littering of plastic bags and related products has become the order of the day.
Whether this challenge will soon be a thing of the past or addressed remains unknown because currently, there is no law to ensure the use and management of plastic bags in Zambia.
The Environmental Mangement Act (EMA) number 12 of 2011 focuses only on the thickness of the plastic bags to be used. In section 58 of the EMA, provides for the Expanded Producer Responsibility (EPR) and demands that every producer of any plastic products be responsible for their waste.
However, the EPR is still in its finalisation stage for it to be operational. It is still going through the relevant government stages and processes for it to be enacted.
Until such a time that the EPR is operational, the challenge of plastic bags continues in Zambia.
Experts have indicated that it takes 10 to 1000 years for plastic bags to decompose.
However, while stakeholders wait for the EPR to be operational and also the actual ban of the use of plastic bags, the Centre for Zero Waste and Development in Africa, an initiative of the Youth Environment Network (YEN) Zambia has the Kathumba bag.
Kathumba bag is a reusable bag designed creatively to help people kick out the habits of single-use plastic bags in Zambia.
It is made of strong material, ideal replacement for consumer groceries and can be used countless times.
Founder Billy Lombe highlighted that introducing the Kathumba bag on Lusaka markets is a great way for consumers to shop without polluting the environment with plastic bags.
The long terms of the Centre for Zero Waste is to strive for the achievement of the elimination of single –use plastic bags and to increase awareness of the organisation’s strategies in which people can be conscious consumers.
Mr Lombe said the organisation in raising awareness will do radio talks and engage in discussions with relevant stakeholders to strengthen digital media and publications of environmental issues.
“Zero waste strategies are important to instill in society for members to contribute to the growth of the economy whether as consumers of good or producers of goods,” Mr Lombe said.
The organisation aims at constructing a communal centre for the local community that will ultimately promote innovation and empower women and youth in zero waste enterprises and activities which can stimulate and promote green jobs in the country.
Mr Lombe called for the enactment of a law that will regulate the use or ban the use of plastic bags in Zambia.
“The co-benefit of this initiative is to empower women and youth in innovative recycling and composting skills and promote the creation of green jobs in waste management,” Mr Lombe said.
Zambia’s Keep Clean Ambassador, Mwewa Chitamabala called for communal effort in strengthening values of cleanliness.
“With a lack of household collection of paper, cardboard, plastic, glass, waste, sorted collection efforts are minimal. This must change,” Mr Chitamala said.
The Lusaka City Council (LCC) currently only collects 40 percent of wastes that is accumulated in Lusaka, the 60 percent uncollected enters waterways, roads, drainages and in homes.
United States Ambassador to Zambia Daniel Foote said at the launch that the high use of plastic around the world is having a devastating effect on the natural environment, on wildlife, and on health.
“Reducing the amount of plastic in use will first and foremost help protect Zambia’s most precious resource. I am proud to support the Centre for Zero Waste and Development’s work to reduce the use of single-use plastic bags through the launch of the Kathumba bag,” Mr Foote said.
He added that reducing the use of plastics will help protect the environment, which is critical for eco-tourism.
The US government is also working with individuals to enhance their capacity to create and expand home-grown programs to do the important work of conservation here in Zambia.
“One of the ways we do that is through US exchange programs such as the Community Solutions Programme (CSP). CSP is a professional development programme for the best and brightest community leaders from around the world,” Mr Foote said.
Kenyan Environmental Activist and photojournalist James Wakibia said reducing plastic pollution on the environment is a wakeup call for all people to change the use of plastics.
According to him, it is possible to replace most of the unnecessary single plastic used for more sustainable products like the Kathumba bag has been launched.
Mr Wakibia said the solution to plastic pollution needs to be taken with seriousness equal to climate change. It is not only a threat to the environment but also to human kind.
“It’s a global problem that needs nations to work together to find sustainable solutions,” he said.
He said that in Kenya, all single-use plastic bags have been banned. However, this created room for innovation and alternative solutions for example, sisal and cotton industries.
“It was not an easy thing to do because of some negative effects such as job losses from manufacturers to retailers, but I take this opportunity to ask the government of Zambia to emulate Kenya and Rwanda in phasing off single use plastic bags, it will be a step in the right direction for this and future generations, while creating opportunities for more sustainable solutions,” Mr Wakibia said.
He said the citizens need to be educated and sensitised on the need to conserve the environment.
“The habit of littering is so much entrenched in our society that we do not see the value of a clean environment. Environmental awareness must be carried out, it is important that children are brought up being taught on why it is important to treat the environment with respect,” he said.
ZIO MWALE, Lusaka