Plastic bags' days are numbered

06 June 2018 | Environment

Regulations to reduce the use of plastic bags in Namibia will be finalised within this financial year.

These measures may include the banning of plastic shopping bags or a tax on such bags.

Proposed measures are being discussed and will be announced as soon as the consultations are done.

This is according to environment minister Pohamba Shifeta, whose speech was read on his behalf at a World Environment Day event by environmental commissioner Teofilius Nghitila.

World Environment Day is marked annually on 5 June. This year's theme was 'Beating Plastic Pollution: If You Can't Reuse It, Refuse It'. Shifeta stressed that winning the war against plastic pollution must take centre stage when it comes to waste management.

He said all types of litter harm the environment and the quality of human life, and also make a bad impression on visitors.

“However, it is our view that plastic bags warrant particular attention and regulatory measures to curb their use.”

This is mainly because of their prevalence, visibility, durability and the harmful effects they have on livestock, wildlife, humans, aquatic life and the broader environment, said Shifeta.

According to him over 15 African countries have already introduced measures to either ban or tax the use of plastic carrier bags.

“These measures have had varying levels of success,” he said.

Shifeta said the ministry intended to learn from these countries' experiences and to introduce measures that would work in the Namibian context.

According to him the ministry has held constructive consultations with representatives of the retail sector on the proposed measures.

These proposals will be further discussed with other government ministries and interested stakeholders before regulations are introduced in line with the Environmental Investment Fund Act and the Environmental Management Act. “We are endeavouring to finalise this process within this financial year,” said Shifeta.

“These measures will be an important first step in efforts to beat plastic pollution but we are aware there will still be much to do.”

He said plastic has become a major feature of modern society since the 1960s because of its convenience and cost-effectiveness in transporting and storing goods. Globally it is estimated that five trillion plastic bags are used per year.

This equates to 160 000 plastic bags per second, of which less than 1% is recycled. “This begs the question, where does all this plastic end up? This is particularly worrisome if we consider the threats that plastic poses to human and environmental health,” said Shifeta.

He said plastic bags are lightweight and therefore can be carried far by the wind, even if they are disposed of at dumpsites.

“The bags get caught up in trees, bushes and fences and often float in water bodies.”

Research indicates that by 2050 the mass of plastic in the oceans will exceed the total mass of fish and that over 90% of the world's seabirds already have plastic in their stomachs, said Shifeta. He said this prevalence of plastic in the oceans creates concerns about the safety of eating fish, for example.

“Fish is a food source we generally consider to be healthy and safe, but if it is contaminated with plastic it can cause all sorts of risks to humans from cancer to strokes, hormonal imbalances and heart attacks.”

According to Shifeta the ingestion of plastic by livestock and wildlife results in similar risks for these animals and the humans that consume them. Shifeta added that there are many other types of plastic that need to be reduced, such as plastic bottles, excessive plastic packaging of products and drinking straws, to mention but a few.

According to him 2018 has already been a momentous year in terms of transforming waste management and promoting civic pride and anti-littering among citizens.

In February the National Solid Waste Management Strategy, which aims for Namibia to become the leading country in Africa in terms of standards of solid waste management by 2028, was launched.

He said the implementation of this strategy was already in full swing.

Shifeta added that Namibia also again demonstrated itself as a trendsetter in environmental protection with the first nationwide clean-up campaign that was held on 25 May.

ELLANIE SMIT

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