Zimbabwe: Plastic Pollution

On 5 June every year, Zimbabwe joins the rest of the world in commemorating World Environment Day. This year’s theme #BeatPlasticPolution calls for concerted efforts to find solutions to reduce plastic consumption and promote sustainable alternatives.

The commemorations come a few days after world leaders completed negotiations of the Plastic Pollution Treaty in Paris, France, aimed at creating binding obligations for states to enact legislation that addressed plastic waste menace.

Since time immemorial, plastic bags have been used across the globe for carrying goods and packaging.

However, despite plastics being popular, several countries have initiated various policies to regularise their use.

Zimbabwe is among a host of African countries that “banned” the use of plastics, especially kaylite.

In 2010, the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) announced a plastic bag ‘ban’ meant to curb a raging littering menace.

The ban was targeting plastic bags that are not less than 30 microns serve for bread packaging and other consumables. This ban has been partial since it did not call off plastic bags completely from the system but gave minimum restrictions.

The ban was prompted by environmental and health costs.

According to EMA, Zimbabwe generates more than 300 000 tonnes of plastic waste every year and a significant proportion of it is dumped onto the streets or open areas, clogging sewers, causing sewer lines to burst and spill sewage into the environment.

This waste also clogs storm drains, causing flash floods during the rainy season. This provides a breeding ground for water-borne diseases such as cholera, malaria and dysentery.

Compliance

However, more than a decade after the ban was announced, neither plastic carrier bags nor kaylite has completely disappeared.

Traders in Harare’s informal settlements continue to use kaylite. These traders include food vendors, retailers and wholesalers.

To increase compliance, there is need to put proper monitoring structures to track the environmental benefits of the ban for an accurate before-and-after picture.

This lack of scientific evidence makes it difficult to monitor and document the benefits of this noble policy intervention.

Way forward

Zimbabwe has to learn from its peers such as Kenya who are reaping benefits from such policy pronouncements.

In Kenya, the ban came with a jail term of four years or a fine of Sh4 million (approximately US$29 000) for offenders.

Plastic bottles used for packaging carbonated soft drinks, fruit juices, alcoholic drinks and water are yet another problem. They should be regulated just like what happened to kaylite and plastic carrier bags.

As such, plastic pollution in Zimbabwe remains a challenge.

More so, plastic waste management in Zimbabwe remains largely informal – it is collected by hand, sorted, and packed for sale to recyclers.

Obviously, volumes could increase significantly if the Treasury provides incentives for plastic recycling by exempting or providing tax cuts for companies that set up recycling shops locally.

To bolster these efforts, Zimbabwe should move with speed in imposing extended producer responsibility for the waste.

What does this policy shift mean? It means all manufacturers should be made to assume full responsibility for the entire life cycle of the waste they emit to the environment.

Polluters must pay for the cleaning of the environment.

All hands on the deck

Studies have shown that the more times a product can be used, the lower the environmental impact. Therefore, it is not enough for consumers to switch to reusable shopping bags. They must also commit to reusing them and avoid littering.

Going forward, the government should engage the public more. Change is in the mindset and once you change the mindset, compliance becomes easier.

The messaging around the impact of plastic on the environment has to be clear, targeted and justified.

Just as important is environmental education, which is an ingredient to behaviour change and the inculcation of a sense of responsibility.

Environmental education should be integrated in all levels of the education system, starting with early childhood education, to raise people’s sensitivity to environmental sustainability issues.

This will create champions and agents of change for sustainable development.

If all stakeholders can put their hands on the deck to achieve a high standard of environmental sustainability, we can rightly say we are on course to achieve our development targets, among them Vision 2030.

As we commemorate World Environment Day, let as all act towards beating plastic pollution and safeguard the environment for the sake of present and future generations.

Zimbabwe is for us all; it is everyone’s responsibility to make it habitable.

Cliff Chiduku is a communications, public policy and governance expert with interests in agriculture and environmental issues. He writes in his personal capacity. Feedback: [email protected] or Call/App +263775716517.