Without plastic bags, Tanzania would still have a pollution problem

Talks of saving the environment and the ocean have become louder, with many countries pledging their support to save the wild/marine life. Tanzania is among these countries. Effective from July 1, 2019, Tanzania’s national ban on the use and production of plastics came into force. This decision which is part of an effort to tackle pollution in the East African country, is projected to see the price of paper bags drop to 60 percent.

Following the ban, the manufacturing of plastic bags in Tanzania can lead to a two-year prison sentence or a fine of up to $400,000 and anyone found carrying a bag can be subject to an on-the-spot fine of $13. While environmentalists are celebrating the move, manufacturers are having a hard time adjusting to the shift in business.

With the ban in place, the use of alternate packaging in the likes of paper bags has skyrocketed.  Tanzania’s Environmental Minister, January Makamba, noted that less than a month into the ban, Tanzanians have fully (100 percent) adopted the use of new products, making the ban one of the most successful initiatives in the country.

Globally, plastic makes up around 13 percent of the waste stream, representing 32 million tons of waste. Just about 9 percent of these plastic goes into recycling programs while the remainders enter landfills and seas where it takes up space and often hurts wildlife.

Each year, over 8 million tonnes of plastic goes into the oceans. It is estimated that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the world. The sea presently contains about 51 trillion microplastic particles – 500 times more than stars in our galaxy.

In the bid to phase out non-biodegradable plastics in the East African region, Tanzania’s ban has given rise to higher prices of eco-friendly bags. However, enforcing a ban on plastic bags is not a guarantee of attaining a friendly and aesthetic ecosystem neither does it solve Tanzania’s waste and pollution problem.

“We are aware of the price-challenge but I can assure people that we are working to ensure that by September this year, more paper bags will be available in markets and prices will drop. Presently, paper bags are sold at Sh5OO ($0.22) but in the next two months, it will be sold between Sh200 (0.09) and Sh300( $0.13),” January Makamba stated.

Certainly, there are benefits to phasing out plastic bags. However, Tanzania’s challenge is more of a management issue than a plastic issue and even with the use of paper bags, without proper disposal, the East Africa country would still have a waste issue. Like many other countries across Africa, 80-90 percent of plastic waste is inadequately disposed of in Tanzania.

Plastics come in many other forms other than bags and are used for packaging many other products. Currently, plastic bottles have surpassed plastic bags as the biggest threat to oceans and rivers in many regions.

Source: Earthwatch.org

This above data shows the prevalence of plastics in European freshwater environments alone, meanwhile, Europe has lesser river plastic inputs than Africa.

Analysis carried out by Greenpeace shows that top beverage brands produce the greatest numbers of plastic bottles. Each year, Coca-Cola alone produces more than 100 billion disposable plastic bottles that are used just once.

While a ban on plastic is a welcome development, it is too early for Tanzania to toot their horn as their pollution problem will not be solved by eliminating plastic bags alone.