NEMC: Plastic bags affect water bodies, marine biodiversity and human beings

NEMC: Plastic bags affect water bodies, marine biodiversity and human beings

"By 2050 world would have more plastic bags onto oceans/seas, lakes and rivers than fishes and other organisms. This translates into having huge probability of fishing out 400 plastic bags and only 2 fishes on either sea, lake or river by that time" UNEP.

Tanzania is one of the nations with great potentials that have made it one of fastest growing economies in Africa.

Her natural resources such as wildlife parks, mountains, and forests remain unrivalled globally but could be extinct unless strategic plans are laid for sustainable management.

The Government of United Republic of Tanzania under the Minister of State in the Vice President’s Office for Union Affairs and Environment, Hon. January Makamba, announced that by June 1, 2019 the use of plastic carrier bags would come to an end.

Government’s decision to ban plastic carrier bags is a vivid reflection of its commitment to implement the campaign under NEMC’s guidance which is a sole regulator of environment activities in Tanzania.

National Environmental Management Council (NEMC) Senior Legal Officer, Manchare Heche provides an awareness to general public over the plastic bags prohibition campaign and serious measure to be taken during the action.

What is NEMC’s core responsibilities following plastic bags ban?

National Environmental Management Council (NEMC) came into being in 1983 when the Government of Tanzania enacted the National Environment Management Act No. 19 of 1983.

Responsibilities carried out by NEMC are sustainable management of the environment, prevention and control pollution, waste management, environmental quality standards, public participation, environmental compliance and enforcement.

Furthermore, undertaking enforcement, compliance, review and monitoring of environmental impacts assessments, research, facilitate public participation in environmental decision-making, raise environmental awareness and collect and disseminate environmental information.

The Council, under Management Prohibition of Plastic Carrier Bags Regulations. No 394 of 2019 gives mandate NEMC as one of the Government institutions of monitoring imports, manufacture, transportation, sale, and use of plastic bags. Therefore, our responsibility for now is to reach out to all Tanzanians in abolishing the use of plastic bags, even when you read the 15th regulation of Prohibition of Plastic Carrier Bags, it provides Local Government Authorities with duties to carry out the action.

This duty rest with all Government Authorities, namely Regional and Districts Commissioners, Local Government Chairpersons carry this responsibility to the fullest and NEMC act as a coordinator of how this exercise should be done across the country.

Why now?

For your information, by January 1st, 2017 it was a planned deadline for plastic bags use ban across the country but with Government favor to its people extended interval up to June, 2017.

In essence, the Government has started the process of alienating plastic bags use since 2003 as a strategic plan for rescue and breathe new life into water resources in this nation. The program realized that the problem of plastic bags in the country has become viral and deliberate crusades need to be taken.

Rwanda officially banned plastic bags use around 2008, should this mean that Tanzania had pioneered early this idea. I urge Tanzanians not to perceive this plan as new thing while had been there before and now it’s time to implement.

Who are your associates in executing this exercise to its completion?

Media outlets are our main associate, collaborating very close at this moment with the fact that media (newspapers, radio, television, blogs etc.) have been very supportive with us in instant dissemination of appropriate information.

Traders and manufacturers are another focus group, Government has persuaded the community of traders and manufactures to immediate shelve plastic bags production and dealership; on the contrary should they apply technological change and turn swiftly into recommended alternative bags with proliferation of them.

Then follows citizens and transporters to whom conversations has already been held over their willingness to deviating from dealing with plastic bags.

To what extent do these alternative bags protect consumer’s health and the environment?

We have looked the matter in three perspectives, first; availability, second is affordability and lastly, its efficiency in conserving environment.

In the case of alternative bags availability, NEMC has put in place lenient conditions for those who are in need of producing them. For instance, when you come for a request of establishing factory for production of plastic bags, we considerably prioritize your demand with permits and other necessary documents be given in short period of time.

We are doing this due to the fact that alternative bags are in the market with its reported increased demands across the country and it’s an opportunity that is likely going to curb the challenge.

Secondly, it’s a Government ambition to forge ahead changes within the country something that majority of people have never had wishful thinking of it.

Talking of alternative bags efficiency in conserving role, we don’t refute the assertion that even alternative bags could be waste and pose threats to environment unless managed well. The added advantage of these alternative bags tends to decay when disposed over time unlike plastic bags whose shelf-life goes up to 500 years before decomposition.

What are recommended alternative bags then?

The act has stipulated clearly type of highly recommended alternative bags currently prior to official ban of plastic bags. The act has mentioned all bags to be made of woven, non-woven and organic materials. Carbohydrates such as cassava make good bags out of it, baskets and khaki bags.

How far has the exercise gone in streets out there?

The exercise is in good progress, 96 Dar es Salaam city wards have our NEMC officials. In nutshell, this is to say whole country from grassroots level of local government authorities to higher level of regional and districts, have our officials and per our regular communication, the update is really impressive and Tabora Regional Commissioner, Aggrey Mwanri exemplary demonstration, is amazing.

Perhaps most of people don’t have clues why plastic bags is being extremely prohibited. Tell us clearly and to what extent encroaches on environment?

The prohibition is inevitable as number of the impacts have been unveiled pertaining to plastic bags usage, not only to environment but also biodiversity and human beings.

According to United Nations Environment Programmes (UNEP) reports, an estimate of 100,000 to 150,000 aqua-organisms die every year owing to plastic bags.

Moreover, UNEP reports that, more than 1 million sea birds die every year because of consuming plastic bags.

As huge reminder to people, UNEP releases another most terrifying report saying that; by 2050 world would have more plastic bags onto oceans/seas, lakes and rivers than fishes and other organisms. This translates into having huge probability of fishing out 400 plastic bags and only 2 fishes on either sea, lake or river by that time.

Tragic episode doesn’t end there, UNEP unfolds another one, 80 percent of plastic bags reach out to households while only 1 percent of bags are recycled. The world is said to have an estimate of 500 billion to 1 trillion of plastic bags.

Kongwa Ranch in 2017 notified us of the sudden deaths of around 156 cows. Out of the 156, 58 cows reported to have died of plastic bags consumption.

Perhaps, I should account for death circumstances of these cows. Plastic bags contained of salt ingredient prompting to cow’s appetite to keep on gnawing at plastic bags. When it swallows the bag, unknowingly the bag goes to block lungs, cow runs short of breath and finally, dies.

The other reason why should these plastic bags be banned; they have a long-life span existing up to 500 million years before decay.

There are still innumerable factors to its cease apart from above reports, plastic bags have encroached on our water bodies (oceans/seas, lakes and rivers). If we can combat plastic bags uses in our nation, we can rescue the ambitious blue economy.

What laws says about plastics bags? And what are the legal actions proposed for any violation of provisions?

Laws stipulate precisely everything from manufacturers, sellers/dealers, transporters, suppliers and consumers. The law also clarified exactly on areas of exemption over plastic bags use.

Management Prohibition of Plastic Carrier Bags Regulations. No 394 of 2019 sanctions duties to be fulfilled by consumer, manufacturer, transporter, importer and seller of plastic bags. The law mentions 6 areas of legal exemption concerning plastic bags use: -

The first area, “plastic packaging for agricultural sector” means plastic wrapping or casing or sheets used for mulching or seedling or greenhouse or reservoir and irrigation system or crop collection, storage and transportation.

Second area, plastic packaging for construction industry” means plastic wrapping, casing or sheets used for handling construction materials or damp-proof in buildings or pipes or cables or tiles or storage tanks or temporary structures or insulation or any other related functions.

Third, “plastic packaging for industrial products” means plastic wrapping or casing or container prepared in advance, to preserve quality of industrial goods or protect from contamination with other goods or extraneous matter, with a tamper proof seal or labeled to describe the product before sale or distribution or offer.

Fourth, plastic packaging for food processing" means plastic wrapping or casing or container prepared in advance to preserve quality of foodstuff or protect foodstuff from contamination with other goods or extraneous matter, with a tamper proof seal or labeled to describe the product before sale or distribution or offer.

Fifth, plastic packaging for medical services” means plastic wrapping or casing or container used in the furnishing of medicine or medical or surgical treatment or nursing or hospital services or dental services or optometrically services; or complementary health services; or any other necessary services of like character whether or not contingent upon sickness.

And lastly, plastic packaging for sanitary and waste management” means large sized plastic carrier bag solely for collecting and handling of solid waste, with a minimum thickness and size to be prescribed by order of the Minister.

On the basis thereof, registration no. 10 provides responsibilities charged with all who are the subjects of legal exemption on plastic bags use and management making sure that they are not being part of lawbreakers. There are vivid penalties to all who violate registrations.

To anyone who is subject of legal exemption and happens to violate the provision (failure to dispose bags properly) as individual, is liable to a fine not less than Tsh. 200, 000 and as company, not less than Tsh. 5,000, 000 million.

There are also penalties to those who are not legally exempted from the registrations, but violate the provision as they are.

For now, NEMC has banned manufacture and import of plastic bags, therefore anyone who will be arrested with such offense, shall be liable to a fine not less than, Tsh. 20 million to I billion- or 2-years sentence or both.

The registration couldn’t forget even distributor, a person found guilty of this offense, is fined of not less than Tsh. 5 to 50 million- or 2-years sentence or both.

To a seller/dealer of the plastic bags, person found guilty of this offense, liable to a fine of not less than Tsh. 100, 000 to 500,000- or 3-months sentence or both.

And to a last person who is consumer, if found guilty of this offense, shall be liable to fine of not less than Tsh. 30,000- or 7-days sentence or both.

Where are plastic bags collection points?

Anyone who possesses plastic bag should submit to his/her local government offices where NEMC officials will be available. We have made it easier for anyone who finds it difficult and maybe puzzled what to do, he/she should pay visit to NEMC offices and we will do him/her a favor.

What message would you like to share to all Tanzanians?  

It is well known that our country is blessed with great deal of potentials and surely nowhere to run once our resources are destroyed. We are resources-rich country in rivers, oceans/seas, lakes, mountains and wildlife parks, protecting them at any cost is heavy duty to carry but we should and we can begin reflect this objective through abolishing plastic bags usages.