Pundits have cast aspersions on the seemingly hurried decision by the Department of Waste Management and Pollution Control to ban the use of shopping plastic bags, saying there seems to have been little consideration of the resultant impact on the consumer.
The urgency with which plastic bags were banned, they said, does not give assurance that thorough thought was given to what alternative carriers will be used and whether the consumer is in a position to adapt with reasonable ease.
“It appears the consumer was not given enough time to prepare for the transition and there seems to have been very little efforts towards educating the consumer on the best use of whatever replacement carrier will be approved, given concerns about pollution and risk to the environment,” they said.
They further challenged the Department of Waste Management and Pollution Control to pronounce the benefits of the replacement carriers against plastic bags. Another question that has emerged is what kind of carriers will be used to replace plastic bags and whether they actually present a better option. Possible alternatives to the plastic bag include paper bags, reusable cotton bags, biodegradable plastic bags, baskets and foldable shopping trolleys. However, pundits believe it is important to assess which of these alternatives has the least negative impact on the environment and also fits the consumer’s lifestyle in terms of convenience and affordability.
“The alternative bags have to be reused a number of times if they are to be an environmentally better option than standard plastic bags,” they said.
Stakeholders have also posited that the urgency to ban plastic bags disfavours the opportunity to extensively dialogue on alternative options so as to select the best solution. While the damage that plastic bags inflict on the environment cannot be disputed, failure by the Department of Waste Management and Pollution Control to empirically establish how much damage they exert on the environment has been viewed as the least ideal approach to addressing the problem. Sources who attended the urgent meeting convened by the Department on 25th September also opined that the meeting was selective as it excluded certain key players.
Tiroyaone Barungwi, Factory Manager at Kgalagadi Plastics Industries (KPI) said in an interview on Friday that biodegradable plastic bags generally disintegrate if exposed to air or water within 12 to 24 months. He also said the Department should have given the plastic manufacturing industry more time to determine if they will be able to manufacture the replacement carriers.
“We can’t just invest in production of biodegradable plastic bags unless we are given a go-ahead by the Department. We are currently facing an uncertain future because plastic manufacturing contributes 50 percent to our total production. Therefore the ban will seriously handicap our production,” he said.
Since the plastic levy was introduced eight years ago KPI’s production plummeted by 16 million from 26 million to now 10 million plastic bags per month. At the same time, Barungwi pointed out that the introduction of biodegradable plastic bags will spark the collapse of the informal recycling industry.
“It’s clear that such a decision requires wide spread consultation and engagement with all stakeholders,” he said.