Casting the net wide

HOPE Nyambe.

THE Ministry of Water Development, Sanitation and Environmental Protection recently announced the ban of single use plastic packaging materials such as plastic carrier bags.
Notable in the announcement made by the ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Ed Chomba, was that Government would also regulate on non-returnable glass and plastic bottles, cartons, beverage cans, waste oils, pesticides or chemical containers, used tyres, and electrical and electronic equipment.
Organisations or people whose activities generate waste with potential to pollute the environment would therefore be required to dispose of their waste in an environmentally friendly manner, including waste recycling.
The ban comes at a time when, globally, there are increased calls for governments to address climate change caused by human activity such as environmental pollution.
World-renowned naturalist and television producer, Sir Anton Attenborough, warned that: “If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”
Empirical evidence of the adverse effects of pollution caused by human activity is much more available than ever before.
Environmental pollution has led to issues such as climate oscillations, which have negatively affected agriculture; degradation in air and water quality leading to health issues, and the reduction in natural habitat leading to extinction of some plant and animal species.
This has resulted in both human and economic costs. Therefore, the ban on the use of plastics bags, in particular, cannot come at a more opportune time.
However, the ban in itself should not be seen as an end. There is need to cast the net wider in highlighting key issues that surround environmental pollution as a whole.
For instance, there is very little value in banning plastics when the general populace has insufficient knowledge on why plastics are being banned. Accompanying and ongoing educational campaigns are key in increasing awareness and behavioural change towards environmentally sustainable practices.
A lack of educational campaigns on environmentally sustainable practices not only makes compliance or regulation difficult, but also encourages the engagement of other equally environmentally damaging practices. The target audience needs to therefore fully understand why certain measures are in place, and the consequences for non-compliance.
Furthermore, apart from enforcing bans on environmental pollutants, Government should incentivise investment in waste recycling. According to a 2016 report by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), recycling accounted for nearly 800,000 jobs and US$37 billion in wages across the USA.
In Africa, however, the picture on recycling is dismal. Despite generating over 70 million tons of waste every year, only 10 percent is collected, with the rest usually ending up in illegal dump sites, gutters and drainages. Unfortunately, with the rapid urbanisation of most African cities and growing economies, it is estimated that waste production will exceed 160 million tons by the year 2025 (World Bank Urban Development Series report).
The scenario in Zambia is no different. There is very little economically viable recycling industry to write home about. If the annual cholera epidemics are anything to go by, they highlight the lack of environmentally friendly ways of disposing and recycling of waste.
The ban of plastic carrier bags does address the problem of pollution but also creates an economic one. Manufacturers of plastic products are likely to suffer an income loss from removing plastic carrier bags from their product line.
This could spell redundancies or loss of employment for some workers. It is therefore imperative that Government incentivises investment in recycling industries to help cushion any negative outcomes of plastic products ban.
Another component beyond the ban of plastics is the general regulation and compliance with environmental law. Emerging technologies and information on the environment are providing information, which is vital in formulating environmental law. Regulators therefore need to formulate laws that cover all products and processes with regard to the environment.
This is a critical and complex task. There is no point of formulating laws that do not meet or serve their purpose. Are Zambian laws sufficient in addressing environmental issues?
In line with the regulation, there has to be fool proof mechanism for insuring compliance to the laws. Lack of compliance is as good as having no regulation at all. There have been questions on the compliance of manufacturing companies and mines, especially with regard to the emission of toxic gases into the environment and the discharge of waste.
People residing near mines, smelting and other gas polluting industries have complained about a variety of pollutants affecting their health and livelihood. In the Copperbelt, in particular, there are reported cases of mine waste and sewer effluent contaminating drinking water for the local communities.
This clearly demonstrates a serious lack of compliance despite environmental regulations being in place.
In conclusion, a tripartite approach of education, regulation and compliance, and investment in recycling is a key strategy in addressing the effects of environmental pollution.
The author is corporate affairs specialist for Stimuli PR.

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