Saturday, May 15, 2021

‘The proposal to ban plastic bags was ill-advised’

The parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is, among other things, a checks-and-balances initiative that is meant to ensure that maximum value is derived from spending tax payer’s money. When the PAC sits, accounting officers from different Ministries are summoned to explain their expenditures in a public forum.

One of the burning issues that emerged from the PAC sittings last week was government’s failure to collect the plastic levy ever since it was instituted eight years ago. This is despite the fact that local retailers continue to demand payment for packaging goods for consumers.

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Elias Magosi could not give a definite answer as to why government has failed to collect the plastic levy, but rather floated the idea that going forward the Ministry will propose to ban the use of plastic bags altogether.

“We recently engaged other stakeholders and cabinet with a view to considering the possibility of banning plastic bags, perhaps to follow on the footsteps of other countries that realised that plastics are problematic especially when they are not properly managed,” said Magosi.

However, a number of questions arise from the proposal to ban the use of plastic bags. For example, how does the ban of a single use of plastics, in this case shopping plastic bags used to package goods at supermarkets, add to preservation of the environment, given the diverse use of plastics in various other products (disposable cups, plates, forks, knives and spoons)?

Another consideration that should be made is the extent of degradation caused by shopping plastic bags to the environment and whether it warrants a proposal for plastics to be banned. The impact of Magosi’s proposal goes beyond the environment also brings into focus the business or industrial use of plastics.

Asked to comment on the issue, Botswana Investment and Trade Centre (BITC) said its assessment of the plastics industry has indicated that there exist viable industries that positively interact with the environment. BITC’s relevance on this issue is that it exists to promote both domestic and foreign investment in the country, which feeds the national objectives such as economic diversification and sustainable employment creation. It was BITC that helped clear the way for the set up of plastic manufacturing plants in Botswana.

“It is against the importance of meeting these national objectives that companies like Crown Manufacturing, BI Manufacturing, Mustaq Plastics, Sun Plastics, Kgalagadi Plastic Industries and Foamex were facilitated to set up manufacturing plants in Botswana to produce plastic bags and recycle plastics,” said BITC in an interview with Sunday Standard.

BITC added that any ban on use of plastic bags will compromise the manufacturing plants’ optimal production and dent their effectiveness and competiveness.

“The major effect obviously will be on the companies’ revenues as their sales will decline, resulting in laying off production staff. Companies like BI Manufacturing, which recycle plastics, will have their value chain negatively affected because of a decline in raw materials.”

Should the proposal be adopted, BITC will be challenged to come up with alternative strategies that will encourage businesses to continue doing business in Botswana. In an interview, BI Manufacturers Director, Sadiq Suleman listed countless materials that are made of plastics that people use in their day to day lives, and therefore deemed the proposal as ignorant to the diverse use of plastic.

“Banning this one item will not contribute to environmental preservation,” he emphasized. From a socio-economic perspective, he lamented the jobs that will be lost as people who make a living from selling used plastics bags will be cut off.

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