Zim gets tough with non-degradable plastic

Mutare – (Zimbabwe) The Environmental Management Agency in Zimbabwe has put its foot down to have a cleaner environment after it discovered that the waste management challenge was exacerbated by plastic litter that is non- degradable. Consequently, the agency, a parastatal under the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Management, adopted and implemented a regulation that now bans the manufacture, importation, distribution and use in Zimbabwe of plastic packaging less than 30 microns. The Manicaland Provincial Environmental Manager, Kingstone Chitotombe, citing the Environmental Management (Plastic Packaging and Plastic Bottles) regulations 2010, said the agency discovered that neighbouring South Africa regulates the thickness of plastic in circulation and it adopted it to come up with a regulation for Zimbabwe. The legislation regulates the importation, distribution and manufacture for local distribution and consumption of plastics. Plastics manufactured for export is not affected by the regulation. The piece of regulation stipulates non usage of plastics less than 30 microns in Zimbabwe and it acts as a way of removing and minimising plastic litter from the environment. Chitotombe said after the regulation was gazetted, EMA embarked on awareness campaigns targeted at the corporate organisations who are the bulk users and distributors of plastics. After the education campaigns, EMA gave the outlets a month’s grace period to stop using plastics that did not comply with the new regulation. “Initially we faced resistance especially from the big retail outlets because some claimed they have stocks of plastics that last a year. We could not wait a year and that was the bone of contention,” Chitotombe said. In response to the defiance, EMA personnel then went round major retail outlets with portable micrometers issuing tickets ranging from US$100.00 to a US$1000.00. To date, 26 tickets worth US$6 650.00 have been issued including US$1 000 fines to leading retail outlets in the provincial capital of Mutare. “We are in the process of pressing criminal charges to organisations that were ticketed and have not yet paid the fines, a move that might throw behind bars the managers of such outlets. However we are happy that the Manicaland province is now 90% compliant. EMA is advocating for the use of plastics more than 30 microns because such plastic is recyclable and re-usable. Chitotombe explained further that plastic less than 30 microns does not decompose easily and it can take up to 25 years to decompose. Other negatives of using non-degradable plastics propelling the adaptation of the regulating legislation include their impact on biodiversity, the dangers posed to wild and domestic animals that ingest the plastics and how they jeopardize the flora and fauna. Chitotombe said when plastics are buried in the soil, they disturb soil aeration and upset the balance of the ecosystem. “Plastic litter obstructs the beauty of a place and when swept into rivers and our drinking water sources have astronomical negative effects like raising the purification costs for drinking water. He said EMA faces a stumbling block with smuggled plastics from neighbouring countries and used by the vending public especially the informal traders. The agency will embark on awareness campaigns targeting informal traders highlighting the negative environmental effects of using non decomposing plastics. EMA aims to get the public to a situation where everyone will go shopping with their own shopping bags or baskets. “It will take us some time, it is a process,” said Chitotombe. The environmental organisation will take the campaigns to schools starting from primary to tertiary institutions, appealing to the media to help by disseminating the information. A notice in one of the leading retail shops regrets the inconvenience caused for introducing a ten cents charge for plastic packaging. The notification further says the move is in agreement with the outcome of a meeting with Retail Association of Zimbabwe (RAZ) and three cents for each plastic package bought is given to Environment Africa to fund awareness campaigns meant to educate public on the benefits of using recyclable and re-usable plastics.

February 2011
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