Why can African countries lead on plastic bag ban

On June 1, 2019, Tanzania’s comprehensive "plastic bag ban" came into effect, prohibiting the import, export, manufacturing, sale, storage and use of plastic bags of all thicknesses in the Tanzanian mainland.

This ban also applies to inbound tourists. In mid-May, the Tanzanian Embassy in China issued a special notice reminding tourists to the country to avoid carrying plastic bags or items wrapped in plastic bags. The entrants will be required to hand in relevant plastic bag products.

Those who violate the above ban may face up to two years in prison, or a fine of up to 400,000 U.S. dollars. Anyone caught carrying plastic bags may be fined $13 on the spot.

Many observers and media praised that Africa leads the world in the plastic bag ban. In terms of numbers and strength, it is true. At present, 34 of the 55 countries in Africa (nearly 62%) have issued relevant laws prohibiting the use or taxation of disposable plastic packaging bags. According to National Geographic magazine, 31 of these countries are located in sub-Saharan Africa, the poorest region in the world.

Especially in East Africa, Tanzania has "neighbors"-Rwanda and Kenya that can learn from the ban on plastics. As early as 2008, Rwanda began to completely ban the use of plastic bags and encouraged recycling through tax cuts. It has accumulated more than ten years of experience in banning plastics. Not only in Africa, but also in the world, it is mentioned in the prevention and control of packaging plastic pollution. The highest "model" country.

Kenya, with the highest degree of industrialization in East Africa, officially implemented the "world's most stringent" ban in August 2017, prohibiting the use, manufacture and import of all commercial and household plastic bags. Violators face imprisonment of one to four years and a fine of up to 4 million Kenyan shillings (approximately RMB 270,000).

In early June 2018, following a comprehensive ban on plastic bags, the Kenyan government further announced that it will implement a ban on all disposable plastic products in designated "protected areas" before June 5, 2020.

Some people say that compared with African countries that ban plastics, many developed countries and regions seem to be slightly "lag behind" in plastic governance.

On January 1, 2018, China officially began to implement the import ban on “overseas garbage”, prohibiting the import of domestic waste plastics, unsorted waste paper, textile waste, vanadium slag, etc. Waste varieties. China has closed its doors to "overseas garbage", and some Southeast Asian countries including Malaysia and the Philippines have also begun to ban the collection and repatriation of "overseas garbage", making developed countries that have long relied on the export of plastic garbage to have garbage on their borders for a while. The area is piled up.

Why is plastic banned in Africa?

In Africa, where the economy is yet to develop, why should plastic bags be banned vigorously? The prevention and control of white pollution is one consideration. However, a study published in the monthly Elsevier "Ocean Policy" in October 2018 pointed out that in Africa, the problem of plastic waste is not only an environmental issue, but is also closely related to many major social and economic development issues in African countries.

Africa is the continent with the fastest population growth rate in the world. The 2015 report of the United Nations Environment Program pointed out that by 2050, Africa will have an additional 1.3 billion people, which means that 80 people will be born every minute. The highest rate of population growth and urbanization is expected to occur in coastal areas. With the rapid development of urbanization, a huge consumer market for plastic products and plastic packaging products will be created.

The rate of construction of waste disposal infrastructure in African countries is far behind the growth rate of African population, urbanization and consumption.

Disposable plastic products that may only be used for a few minutes cannot be properly disposed of, and a large part of it flows into the ocean. In 2016, a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation at the World Economic Forum (WEF) stated that at least 80 billion US dollars of plastic packaging materials flow into the ocean every year; the report predicts that if this trend continues, by 2050, There will be more plastic in the ocean than fish (by weight).

This trend is particularly unfavorable for Africa. Subsistence fishing has an important position in Africa-the proportion of protein intake from fish in many African countries is as high as 70% in Tanzania and 60% in Ghana and Sierra Leone. After the plastic waste flows into the ocean, it is decomposed into microplastics and enters the marine organisms, passes through the human food chain, and finally "returns" to the human body, which has an impact on human health.

In addition, the African fisheries sector has more than 12 million employees (2014). Marine plastic pollution poses a potential threat to Africa's food safety, fishery livelihoods, and marine ecosystems.

On the African continent, the impact and loss of disposable plastic bag pollution on the appearance of the city may be directly felt.

Due to the lack of proper garbage recycling and disposal, many African cities have plastic bags floating in the wind, and many plastic wastes are eventually landfilled. Garbage hills rise on the edge of the garbage cities that can be treated in the future, and white plastic bags are in them. Especially eye-catching.

During the heavy rains in 2015, the accumulation of plastic bags and other plastic supplies blocked the sewers in Accra, the capital of Ghana, West Africa, causing severe floods, causing at least 150 deaths and millions of dollars in economic losses. The stagnant water environment created by "white pollution" can easily become a breeding ground for mosquitoes and promote the spread of diseases.

In March 2017, a landslide occurred in a landfill in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. More than 110 people were killed and dozens of houses were destroyed. Many of the dead searched for food and recyclables for sale in the landfill. thing.

Is the ban on plastics reliable?

Because of this, African governments have shown more decisiveness and determination in implementing the plastic ban, and the control of white pollution has become a policy choice for many African government leaders to embody "good governance".

Due to the problem of imperfect data information, at present, there is no authoritative macro data to show the effects of plastic bans and restrictions on plastics in these countries. However, these bans seem to have been implemented, which has brought various impacts on the lives and businesses of local people.

Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, which implemented an early ban on the use of plastic bags, is called the "cleanest city in Africa" by UN-Habitat.

David Ong'are, Director of Enforcement of Kenya's National Environmental Management Agency (NEMA), told the Guardian in April 2018, “When the wind is blowing, you will never see handbags flying around. Waterways are less blocked. Now, fishermen on the coast and Lake Victoria hardly see plastic bags entangled in their fishing nets."

In addition, Ong'are said that the slaughterhouse once found plastic in the viscera of about 3 out of every 10 animals slaughtered, and this number has now dropped to one.

In Nairobi, Kenya, some people are accustomed to directly defecate in plastic bags, then tie them up and discard them at will. This is called "flying toilets". This practice has received many complaints. The Guardian reported in April 2018 that local residents reported that after the implementation of the "most strictly prohibited order", the behavior of "flying toilets" basically disappeared, and more people chose public toilets that charge fees in the community. After all, these 5 shillings once Or 100 shillings family monthly service, which is much less fine than using plastic bags.

However, the ban is still controversial.

Kenya, which has implemented the "most prohibited order" for more than a year, was previously the main plastic bag producer and exporter in East Africa. The ban directly affects local plastic bag manufacturers.

After the 2017 ban was announced, the Kenya Manufacturing Association (KAM) issued a document strongly opposed. The association stated that there were more than 176 plastic production companies in the country, employing 2.89% of Kenya’s labor force. The ban will affect direct employees of these companies and other over 60,000 jobs created indirectly.

The association also pointed out that the "plastic ban" policy requires a more reasonable pace. Under the current situation in the country, the government only provides a short 6-month "buffer period". It is really very difficult to find an effective "replacement" for plastic bags. difficult.

In addition to formal enterprises, in Africa where the informal sector and self-employed are active, small vendors previously relied mainly on cheap plastic bags. The ban has greatly increased the packaging costs of their "small businesses". Many people said that we are not bad guys and do not want to break the law, but we want to obtain an effective alternative, and we are "the kind that does not lose money."

In addition, the enforcement process of the ban has also caused controversy. According to many media reports and research reports, in Rwanda and Kenya, the secret use and smuggling of plastic bags was regarded as "as bad as drug trafficking" by some local law enforcement officers. Violators were ordered to apologize in public. Some of them have also been blackmailed by law enforcement officers, humiliated in public, and even illegally stayed and beaten.

Many critics even pointed out that the East African government's comprehensive ban on plastic bags cannot fundamentally solve the problem. Moreover, compared to other packaging materials such as paper, cloth, and glass, plastic packaging sometimes has some advantages depending on the specific situation, including food preservation, transportation costs, and production processes.

Some analysts said that politicians just want to use the ban on plastics to highlight their determination to protect the environment "at no cost"-plastic bags are a simple target that can be targeted, and the more fundamental problem behind it is the lack of handling by these countries. The volume of soaring plastic garbage capacity. They pointed out that the establishment of a garbage recycling system, public education, etc. is the fundamental way.

Is a total ban on plastics a helpless shortcut?

It is true that the "ban on plastics" implemented by East African countries with heavy penalties is not the only way to solve plastic pollution, and it has also been accused of "too extreme". However, some people think that this may be a quick and relatively simple shortcut and helplessness for many African countries at this stage.

In fact, a simple consensus is that there is no shortcut to solving the plastic problem. The "shortcut" here refers more to the rapid reduction of visible white pollution and the use of heavy penalties to forcibly change the consumption habits of the people.

Even the Kenya Manufacturing Association, which opposes the most prohibitive order issued by the Kenyan government, admits that the strict ban is a kind of "stimulus." Achievements within the country exceed the past five years."

After all, to establish an effective plastic waste disposal and recycling system, especially in Africa, is actually expensive and complicated.

Considering the construction of plastic waste recycling infrastructure, a study on the waste recycling system in Africa published in 2007 pointed out that in Africa, international recycling companies have no intention to build special recycling facilities locally because of the market capacity of local recyclable materials. It is very limited, the effect of economies of scale is small, and it is not cost-effective to spend a lot of money to build infrastructure.

For many African governments, this infrastructure construction cost is also expensive, and it is not as easy to ban plastic bags directly.

The above research also pointed out that compared with other recyclable waste (metal, glass, etc.), the economic benefits of plastic recycling, the labor and transportation costs for the collection, sorting, and reprocessing of plastic waste, and the cost of electricity and water consumption for washing and processing More sensitive. Plastic recycling has high requirements for the cleanliness and purity of materials. The classification and sorting of different types of plastics, and the washing and cleaning needs of packaging functional plastics all increase the difficulty and cost of plastic recycling.

From the perspective of the recycled plastics market, a practical question after the establishment of the garbage recycling system is, is there any need for recycled plastics? In fact, many African countries currently lack local manufacturers that can manufacture and use recycled plastics, and entrepreneurial communities rarely explore business models in the recycled plastics market.

In addition, the recycled plastics market itself has certain instability. Plastics are essentially derived from petroleum. Fluctuations in petroleum prices affect plastic prices to a certain extent. When petroleum prices fall, the cost of producing new plastic products is often much lower than recycled plastics, making recycled plastics unpopular.

Under the existing technology, the chemical composition of many recycled plastics is not as stable as that of nascent plastics, and most of them can only be "downcycling". The quality of the recycled materials produced is much lower than that of nascent plastics and their value is also lower. For example, a Coke plastic bottle that has been used once is difficult to reprocess into plastic bottles through recycling, and is usually processed into polyester chips.

Although lamenting that Tanzania's comprehensive ban is very strong, the Chinese company employee said that although it will cause some troubles to the daily life of tourists and locals, he still thinks that the ban on plastics is a good thing.

"In the early stages of development, African countries can observe the white pollution problems exposed by developed countries in Europe and the United States and China in their development, and realize that they need to deal with this problem and can avoid detours.

GuangZhou Hukang Protective Products Co., Ltd is a professional eco friendly straws manufacturer and wholesaler over 10 years experience in biodegradable drinking straws including wheat straws and bamboo organic straws which purely made from plants and compostable



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