The use of plastic packaging has not been banned in Zimbabwe and the on-going furore over the matter is a media-led misconception, the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) has said.
Estas Mabwe, the EMA environmental education and publicity officer for Mashonaland East on Friday said the use of plastic, packaging was still permissible in Zimbabwe, but what had been banned was the use of plastics thinner than 30 micrometres (microns).
“The statutory regulations that prohibit the use of thin plastics is SI 98 of 2010 and it gives directives that retailers and all other manufacturers should stop distributing carrier bags below 30 microns,” said Mabwe. “EMA has not banned the use of other plastics that are above 30 microns because of their nature that they can be reusable.”
Mabwe said the fact that people have to pay a price for thicker plastic carrier bags meant that they would be able to recognise their value and frequently use them, apart from the fact that they are recyclable as compared to the thinner ones.
He said the regulations did not in any way cause closure of industries manufacturing thin plastics because they had been given adequate time to comply with the requisite regulations and switch onto plastic packaging more than 30 microns thick.
“Section 3, sub-section (i) of SI 98 stipulates that the manufacture or use within Zimbabwe, commercial distribution or importation of plastic packaging with a wall thickness of less than 30 micrometres is prohibited unless it can be provided that there are (a) plastic bag packaging and clingy film used as plastic carrier packaging of a wall thickness of between 25 micrometres and 30 micrometres, or (b) bio-degradable plastic packaging,” Mabwe said.
He said any product found in contravention of these regulations would be recalled from the system.
“We cannot do without plastics but we encourage use of paper packaging because this can rot and also add manure to the environment. By all means shoppers should try to use paper packaging,” he said.
Environmentalist Gladman Chibememe of the Chibememe Earth Healing Association said thin plastics use should be discouraged because it caused loss of beauty to the environment if they were scattered all over.
“Thin plastics are made of non-biodegradable materials that take long to decompose to the extent that such material becomes hazardous. They can block waterways in cities and we end up having sewage flowing everywhere,” said Chibememe.
He said even if one tried to dispose of them through burning, they emitted dangerous carbons which had an impact to the environment because they produced carbon dioxide that might result in the depletion of the ozone layer and contribute to climate change.
“Since they can block water channels and canals, they can destroy bridges and other infrastructure through flooding, as well as cause water to accumulate in one place and attract waterborne diseases like cholera, bilharzia and malaria,” he said.
He said water systems were created for conservation and if water overspilled due to blockages it could destroy infrastructure and cause soil erosion and gullies.
“We encourage the use of biodegradable packaging like cardboard and paper because it is wood-generated from maize stalks and will definitely be decomposed,” he said.
He said plastic packaging manufacturers should have social corporate responsibility strategies to ensure that the public was informed about the hazards caused by improper disposal of plastic packaging.