A Victory in The War on Plastic

February 7, 2021 By tsr admin


Malawi has implemented a ban on the production and distribution of thin plastics, earning praise from environmental and conservation activists. This follows a prolonged legal battle between plastic manufacturers and government, which the government has now won. The ban, which was originally implemented in 2015, was being appealed by plastics manufacturers led by Aero Plastics Industries Limited on the grounds that they were not properly consulted on the implications of the ban and the harm this would do to their businesses. However, the country’s highest court, the Supreme Court of Appeal, dismissed the appeal in November 2019, agreeing with the government’s argument that plastics manufacturers had been given enough warning and time to prepare for the cessation of thin plastics’ production.


By Deogracias Benjamin Kalima

The Supreme Court panel of seven judges led
by the country’s Chief Justice, Andrew Nyirenda, dismissed the appeal, thereby
freeing government to implement the thin plastics ban. The ban prohibits
production and distribution and importation of single use plastic with a
thickness of less than 60 microns.

Reacting to the ruling, Ministry of Natural
Resources, Energy and Mining spokesperson Sangwani Mwafulirwa hailed the
decision by the country’s highest court, saying this will go a long way in
combating the environmental degradation caused by the single use plastics.

“We are excited as a ministry to have
finally won the legal battle which enables us to enforce the ban,” he said. “Going
forward, this will essentially reduce the waste that is coming from thin and
single use plastics, therefore fighting environmental degradation.”

Mwafulirwa further warned that violating the ban carries the potential penalty of three-months’ imprisonment, and companies found to be in breach risk a fine of MK10 million (US$13,000) and closure of their factories as stipulated in the Environmental Management (Platistcs) Regulations.

A piece of think plastic half buried in dirt
Thin plastic partly buried in the soil

Blessings Pongwe, a resident of Lunzu (a
high density township in Blantyre), welcomed the ban, saying that single use
plastics were polluting his area to the extent that playgrounds have become unsafe
for children, having been essentially used as a dumping ground for thin
plastics.

“The whole neighborhood is full of plastic
waste owing to irresponsible dumping by residents which is making the places
look untidy and unsafe for kids,” he bemoaned.

Pongwe went on to say that most of the
dumped plastics were ending up in the township’s streams and rivers, therefore
disturbing the area’s ecosystem. He hopes in the long run this will be halted
following the ban.

Livestock farmer Amini Saidi says he has
welcomed the ban as he hopes it will control proliferation of plastics in his
area, which has becomes so troublesome as to result in the loss of livestock.

“The thin plastics ban is long overdue,” he
said, “as the damage caused by plastics has been huge. Personally I have lost
three goats in the last 12 months due to them eating plastics which were found
all over.”

Piles of thin plastic scattered across a dirt mound, with some vegeation struggling to get through
Large swathes of the country have become dumping grounds for thin plastics

“Losing three goats has been devastating on
a low income farmer like me” he continued. “And what about losses incurred by
other livestock farmers all the country?”

A survey of some of the crop farmers around
the semi-urban areas of Lunzu found that most of them support the ban, with the
main reason being that they hope it will solve the soil infertility problems
the plastic have been causing around the township. Some of the residents use
the land to grow Malawi’s staple food, maize. However, harvests have been
dwindling over the years, due mainly to land degradation caused by the
unnecessary dumping of thin plastics.

A recent government-commissioned study,
with support from United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Lilongwe
Wildlife Trust, found out that the country’s largest fresh water lake, Lake
Malawi, could run out of fish stocks by 2050 if the use of thin plastics is not
controlled, thereby depriving the citizens of a readily available source of
protein.

The report from the study found out that the cost of plastic pollution on towns, fisheries, livestock, agriculture, tourism and human health is higher than the cost of the ban, especially when the likely adaptive response and regional trends are taken into account.

A thin stream, its bank littered with plastic
Even cities’ rivers are not spared, their banks having become burdened with plastic waste

Malawi has over 14 plastic manufacturers that
are in operation, producing an estimated 70 000 tonnes of plastic each year.
The industry employs about 5,000 people and contributes about 25 percent of
export income. It is believed 85 percent of this is made up of single use
plastic, which has been blamed for land degradation in a country that is
already struggling with the effects of climate change. Weather extremes are
worsening, with alternating drought and flooding that is crippling the economy
and livelihoods.

In banning single use thin plastics, the
South East African country joins other African countries such as Kenya, Rwanda
and Tanzania, all of which effected single use plastics bans some years ago.

James Banda, an environmental activist, says
that, although the thin plastics ban will have some immediate challenges such
as loss of business to manufacturers and potential job losses, he thinks the
ban will spur the market to find more durable and environmental friendly alternatives,
which could make profits in the long run.

“Obviously the ban will have some negative
impact on some people, however going forward, the industry should strive to
find durable alternatives like the re-usable bags and bio-degradable carrier
bags,” he said.

However, the ban will not be exclusive. Plastics used for wrapping confectionary, fruits, fresh fish and poultry products are still being allowed on the market.


About the Feature Image: In southern Malawi, the erosion-resistant rock of Mulanje Massif, a large mountain mass, rises dramatically above the landscape near Lake Chilwa, a shallow, saline lake. The upper slopes of the massif are protected forest. The deep green color south of the massif is tea and macadamia farms.