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Effects of the ban on Polythene bags and policy considerations

By Vision Reporter

Added 19th August 2015 12:56 PM

Polythene bags have over the years played a central role in packaging for both domestic and commercial purposes.

Effects of the ban on Polythene bags and policy considerations

Polythene bags have over the years played a central role in packaging for both domestic and commercial purposes.

By Benjamin Waniala

Polythene bags have over the years played a central role in packaging for both domestic and commercial purposes.

In Uganda, one of the most common domestic uses of polythene bags is packaging food for example most fast foods sold in the street and local restaurants for example chapattis, rolex, chips and its accompaniments are always wrapped in some form of polythene bag.

Another example is the use of polythene bags when carrying out household shopping items, be it at your local market and kiosk or the high end supermarkets.

Commercially polythene bags are also used especially in branding and storing new commodities like electronics, stationery, clothing and a lot more. It is almost impossible to buy anything brand new without it being covered in a polythene bag or with polythene wrapping.

Recently polythene bags have also been commonly used in garbage collection to collect and transport household and office rubbish and waste to central garbage dumps.

In spite of this diverse use of polythene bags, they are a proven environmental hazard when improperly disposed of.

According to the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) poor disposal of polythene bags leads to Clogging of water channels both in urban and rural towns and areas, Impeding smooth water filtration and percolation into soil.

This results in the degradation of fertile loam soil used for agriculture, poor drainage and eventually flooding in both rural and urban areas the like suburbs of Bwaise, Kawempe to mention but a few. In Bangladesh, polythene bags are claimed to have contributed greatly to the major floods in 1988 and 1998 floods that submerged most of the country.

In addition to this, polythene bags produce dangerous chemical products when used to wrap or cover food stuffs. They also release cancerous fumes in the air when burnt, posing danger to human lives.

One of millennium development goals (goal No.7) of the world bank and its member countries is to “Ensure Environmental Sustainability.”One of the ways of doing this is to control the harmful effects brought about by use of polythene bags as stated above. Some countries have gone about this by banning the use of polythene bags.

These include Rwanda, Bangladesh, Mexico in Mexico City, Burma in the city of Rangoon, India in the cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Karwar, Tirumala, Rajastan and most recently Uganda. However the major problem with such a policy is enforcement as is the case with India.

In Uganda this ban has been tried before in 2009 were a total ban on the importation and production of all polythene materials as well as an imposition of an excise duty of 120 per cent some plastic materials. However this move failed because of poor implementation.

In April 2015, The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) announced again the ban of polythene bags of less than 30 microns which it would be implement alongside Kampala City Council Authority (KCCA).

Such an action is and will continue to greatly affect the livelihood of a number of Ugandans in the short run who use, distribute and manufacture polythene bags. On the side of consumers, shoppers have to incur a higher cost of purchasing new shopping bags many of which are smaller and almost double the price of polythene bags.

Many small shops and supermarkets do not offer them to consumers freely as was the case with polythene bags before. In addition to this, shoppers are inconvenienced having to always move with alternative shopping bags in case they are going shopping. Gone are the days when all you had to do was show up at the market or supermarket with your wallet.

The average shopper has to come equipped with “kicapu” type bags or have them close by whenever the urge to shop big looms. Furthermore purchasing branded shopping bags from the bigger supermarkets makes it difficult for shoppers to purchase goods from other supermarkets holding a branded shopping bag from another supermarket.

To the producers and distributors, the story draws down to one conclusion, conform or you’re out. With unemployment figures continuing to climb, more notably youth unemployment, the situation can only get worse. Most of those selling or distributing polythene bags at your local market are youth.

Most of these are at risk of losing this as an occupation because purchasing alternative shopping bags is more expensive and in most cases a onetime thing. Unlike the use of “kaveera” were one was able to keep purchasing a different kaveera bag for different type of food like one for meat and one for vegetables or a new one when the previous one gets full and discard after shopping, these new shopping bags will be bought once and recycled for a number of shopping periods before a new one is bought.

This means less sells for youths selling such products and ultimately unemployment and poverty. Similarly, those producing polythene bags have to make expensive decisions to adapt to these new changes or risk being shut down permanently. Such decisions include purchasing new machinery to produce alternative shopping bags as well as training staff on how to work such machinery. The more immediate effect of course is to lay off workers because the cost of adapting is too high which comes down again to unemployment.

The Government implementation the policy is bound to face challenges. The first problem is a reduced tax base previously gotten from the producers and importers of polythene bags and inputs. This will lead to higher taxes on other products to maintain the growing budget.  More worrying are the protests from the public on this policy especially from producers and distributors who stand to lose the most.

However in the long run, this ban reduces all the risks mentioned attributed to polythene bags for example risks of cancer gotten from the dangerous fumes emitted when polythene bags are burnt as well as the chemicals from the polythene bags that would sip in to food wrapped in polythene bags. This policy would also take a huge step in supporting the environment as a pillar of sustainability by supporting sustainable agriculture.

Without polythene bags, fertile soils allow smooth water filtration and percolation into soil as well as better drainage which would boost agriculture. There would be clear water channels which would prevent flooding. In addition to this the city and eventually the country would become clean and attractive for citizens and visitors to live in.

To ensure such a future, this policy should be done systematically and in a way that would reduce some of the likely short term negative effects stated above as well as generate benefits to the public. Some of the in notable insights that should be inclusive of such a policy include.

Firstly, since the ban does not affect thicker polythene bags above 30 microns, policies should be put in place to ensure that such polythene is properly disposed of after use. One way this can be done is by ensuring such polythene is recycled and reused so that it is not dumped or burnt. Secondly government should encourage the production of alternatives to polythene bags especially from those firms that formerly produced polythene bags and are greatly affected by the ban.

This might reduce potential unemployment caused when such firms close as well as create employment in this sector with growth in production and distribution of alternative bags. Government should also step up to sensitize Ugandans about the negatives effects of polythene bags and the potential benefits attributed to banning them so that it can gain support from the public.

Lastly pre and post policy data on the performance of the ban should be gathered and availed to the public. This should not only show the lengths to which the government has gone to rid the nation of polythene bags but also the improvements to both the people and the environment following such a policy.

In conclusion, this ban has direct and indirect negative short term effects on users, distributors and manufacturers of polythene bags which could put the success of this policy at risk.

However, if the Government can convince the public that such a policy is necessary for the long term wellbeing of the nation by adequately sensitising them of the long term benefits and reducing the impact of the short term negative effects, then such a policy can be implemented in a successful and sustainable way.

The writer is a student of Economic Policy and Planning


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