Africa Wages War on Plastic Bags

by , 12/17/07
filed under: News, Policy, San Francisco

Plastic Bags, Plastic Bag exhibition, London Photography, Photographers’ Gallery, Africa plastic bag, Africa moves to ban plastic bags, recycling initiative, plastic bags, Africa plastic bags, environment UNEP, polythene plastic, Reuters Business Daily

Motivated by a climate of widespread environmental devastation, Africa has boldly moved to initiate a continent-wide ban on plastic bags in an effort to eliminate the billions of throwaway sacks that are marring its cities and landscapes (San Francisco, Melbourne, and other cities have already banned them altogether). It’s no surprise that what was once viewed as a step towards modernization has instead created far-reaching problems for rural and urban communities that initially embraced the cheaply manufactured plastic bag in lieu of totes made of indigenous materials and biodegradables.

Africa plastic bag, Africa moves to ban plastic bags, recycling initiative, plastic bags, Africa plastic bags, environment UNEP, polythene plastic, Reuters Business Daily

Plastic sacks typically wreak havoc in the landscape by blocking drains and sewage systems and damaging ground water, soil, and native plants. They can kill the valuable livestock and foraging animals that ingest them. They are also known to be instrumental in the spread of malaria by creating of minipools of warm water that allow mosquitoes to breed rapidly. Region by region, Africa has had its share of grief caused by the plastic bag outbreak. South Africa once produced 7 billion bags a year and have subsequently imposed a ban on bags thinner than 30 microns, a thickness so flimsy that one’s finger can easily poke through.

Other more durable bags are taxed by South Africa, which, in turn, gives some of this revenue to a plastic bag recycling company. Somaliland residents became so accustomed to plastic bags fluttering about the landscape that they renamed them “the flowers of Hargeisa” after their capital. Until recently, Kenya churned out about 4,000 tons of polyethylene bags a month.

Now the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and other concerned groups are spearheading a fast-growing campaign to remedy the crisis. According to Reuters, “The plastic problem is now on the agenda of almost every African country,” Mebratu, an Ethiopian, said at his office in a UN compound in Nairobi. “The major focus is to promote rational use and disposal of plastic bags.” Rwanda and Eritrea have already banned the bags outright, the United Nations says. “Go to the airport in Kigali and if you have a plastic bag, they will confiscate it,” Mebratu said.

Fortunately, there are alternatives on the horizon for marketplace shoppers and commercial vendors throughout Africa. A recent report in Business Daily Africa describes the new demand for sisal and burlap bags as being practical, eco-friendly fashion statements with locals who also want to sport a more traditional African look. “When the Government of Kenya banned the use of plastic bags, people rushed to seek alternative means to carry their shopping and utilities. But do not forget that people do not want to look backward, so these trendy bags are setting the pace,” said Nduta Ndambuki, who sells sisal bags at Nairobi’s Masaai market.

+ Business Daily Africa

+ Reuters

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  1. Sal December 18, 2007 at 9:38 pm

    Sounds like there are a few that don’t like the idea of plastic being banned whether it has or hasn’t been.
    Plastic is a carcenogenic. It gives off poisonous gases. That might not be a problem in small amounts – but it can be dangerous in large amounts – especially when it gets hot. Some people even microwave food in the stuff. They might as well just eat cancer.

    Not sure who has or has not banned it completely but I sure like seeing that people are starting to recognize the nastiness of the stuff.

  2. Tad Chef December 18, 2007 at 9:25 am

    Sorry, but are all Americans war mongers, even the “green” ones? I can’t stand the “war on drugs” and “war on terror” propaganda and now I have to read war on this, war on that in a green journal. Mind your language.

  3. chris December 18, 2007 at 6:03 am

    The republic of Ireland placed a 15 cent tax on bags for an environmental fund in 2002 and led to a reduction in use by 90% and has raised millions of euros.

  4. Chirstopher December 18, 2007 at 5:50 am

    I think plastic bags are very late in the list of issues Africa needs to tackle.

  5. otitodirijesu December 18, 2007 at 1:42 am

    More like A Few Nations in South and East Africa Wages War on Plastic Bags. I hate it when morons try to lump the continent as one group. Anyway, expect this initiative to flop once it requires too much trouble or money. The only country that’ll probably stick to it is South Africa.

  6. Hannes December 18, 2007 at 1:36 am

    Orrin, our government did not ban plastic bags out right. They banned shops from handing them out free, in an attempt to make people reuse the bags. We have to pay for every bag that we take out of the shop. I can’t say that this strategy was a huge success, but you do see a lot less plastic shopping bags blowing around in the streets.

    I really do hope our government decides to ban the bags completely, but only time will tell if this will actually happen.

  7. joyce December 18, 2007 at 1:14 am

    Sounds like the problem is not with plastic bags, but with people disposing of them carelessly.

  8. Andrew December 18, 2007 at 1:09 am

    ZA has not banned plastic bags, but has imposed a small tax on them…and it has helped clean up the country.

    I don’t see how this headline makes sense – given the fact that there are 54 countries in Africa, how can you say that “Africa” will ban plastic bags? Or is the United Nations telling Africa what to do the same as every country in Africa deciding to create an environmental initiative? I’m guessing that some of them probably have other higher on their agendas, as unfortunate as that may be.

    Anyway, from the South African example, it seems to just take about a 5 cent tax at the till to make a difference. Not something the U.N. should impose or claim credit for suggesting.

  9. Orrin December 17, 2007 at 9:28 pm

    I thought South Africa had banned plastic bags years ago?

  10. Rawr December 17, 2007 at 7:19 pm

    So what do we do with our used toilet paper after we use the bathroom? Flush it down the toilet?

  11. Jahved December 17, 2007 at 6:15 pm

    Sorry to inform you but Melbourne Australia certainly hasn’t banned the plastic bag. No levies have even been placed on bags. A voluntary program using reusable green bags is in place, but not many people have adopted it. Sorry to say, but my city does not deserve this environmental credit.



  12. Nick December 17, 2007 at 4:02 pm

    As a college student in one of these cities:, I feel it is my duty to help publicize this list. If everyone in the country went and got their Carbon Footprint score from and then took just one pledge I think we could stop global warming. Not only is it fun to see where you land compared to these cites, but you can compare to your state, US etc…This tool is vital to the international fight against global warming.

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