There is an odd moment when shopping with which most readers will probably be familiar. It’s that second when you’re standing at the Spar supermarket checkout counter with your shopping basket or trolley and the lady behind the till asks you if you would like to buy a plastic bag.
You might decide that you are not prepared to part with 25 thebe for a throw away Spar plastic bag or you might just dip into you purse. The recent decision by local supermarkets to sell carrier plastic bags to shoppers has been received with mixed feelings.
A GameCity complex shopper told the The Sunday Standard that, “I cannot believe that I have to buy a plastic bag; I buy my food then a plastic on top. It’s ridiculous and inconsiderate and it took my budget of P20 to P21.” Prices range from 15t to 75t depending on their size, small to large. It also depends on the store. Shoppers looked distressed and surprised at the tellers this week when they were asked if they wanted to buy a plastic. Most consumers left the stores with their trolleys filled with unpackaged goods while others left with many an arm full.
In place of plastic bags, some consumers have opted to buy material shopping bags to avoid buying plastic bags. Others felt that it would be better to re-use their plastic bags. And that is the point.
Botswana shoppers’ love affair with plastic bags is becoming as controversial as wearing a fur coat in Europe or smoking while pregnant ÔÇô well maybe not as controversial, but it has got quite a number of local tree huggers hot under the collar.
“Have you seen the rubbish lying around due to plastics? It’s unbelievable,” says a shopper, who strongly believes that this system is environmentally friendly. Food store managers agree that this is an excellent idea as it encourages people to take note of the environment saying that now people will learn how to be responsible with waste.
They also believe it is a better alternative to a complete halt of plastic bag use.
Rule Jimmy Opelo from the National Environmental Laboratory says their main concern is litter. They want to promote recycling and re-use of plastic bags. He says “plastics are like flowers in the country and the best way to limit pollution is by selling them”. The plastic bags requested for sale are thicker ones, with a size of 24 micros and less than that is illegal. He stresses that the normal thinner plastic bags that were usually given for ‘free’ are not to be sold as they have a hidden pricing and are already charged, stores are now charging consumers double. Just as the National Environmental Laboratory and masses of people, Environmental Project Manager Keneilwe Moseki, says their main concern is the environment and the effect that litter has on it.
Most consumers believe it is a waste of money and suggest that Botswana has become a shadow of South Africa as this system has been a part of the South African legislation since 2002. Opelo disagrees. He maintains that they do what is important for the country in its own context. He says they are not copying South Africa; instead they are promoting globalisation in the country. He remarks how it is a process that is followed and not a sudden arrangement and this process actively began in 2003.
Store managers say this has not affected their business in anyway so far as they sell plastics for what they buy them for. A Liquorama Branch Manager says, “It will benefit the environment and will save money and expenses as the plastic producers import raw materials to produce these plastics,” as such, plastic producers and stores will benefit as they are getting something back from manufacturing the bags. This system also encourages recycling of the plastic bags.
The Botswana Bureau of Standards (BOBS) with the Department of Waste Management and Pollution control are on a mission to educate the public about this new plastic pricing system. BOBS has set the standards of the new plastic thickness (24 micros) and they are going around the country enforcing these standards by ensuring the use of the thick size.
However, Moseki says that there has been no proof yet of the government educating people on this new system, she also stresses that more education is needed about the environment and the media alone is not enough. Somarelang Tikologo is also concerned about who benefits from this system as no form of levy has been agreed on for environmental awareness.
“Is this charging helping the environment in any way?” asks Moseki, though Opelo states they are working on a system which will benefit the environment.
Plastic producing company, Kgalagadi Plastic Industries (KPI), says it’s too soon to comment on this issue. With the mixed opinion coming from people, this system is hoping to be a success but the pricing standardizing needs to be looked at as different stores are charging different prices for the same size plastic.