The future remains plastic.

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I’ve previously written about the ban on thin plastic bags in Malawi, which came into effect in June this year. At the time, I noted that it was a seriously forward move for the country, where plastic litter can be found all over the capital. Except that it wasn’t.

Initially, it seemed some changes were being made: my local supermarket, Chipiku, had signs up explaining the ban, and sold customers heavy-duty plastic bags to put their groceries in. Alas, that did not last. Only a week or so after the (supposed) ban, Chipiku and other stores were back at eagerly packing my items into multiple, free, thin plastic bags. What went wrong?

Local newspaper The Nation today reports that an industry appeal to the (then) Minister of Environment and Climate Change Management in March 2014 won them a year’s reprieve. Plastics manufacturers argued that the ban would have an adverse impact on their industry, and that they were setting up a plastics recycling plant to help reduce plastic waste. The Minister was swayed: “Considering the issues you have raised and actions proposed towards production of biodegradable plastics, investment in recycling machines, and commencement of social programmes to reduce indiscriminate production and use of thin plastics, it has been necessary to extend the commencement date of commencing the ban to 30 June 2015.”

This happened well before the ban was announced. So why then was the ban announced at all? According to The Nation, political in-fighting seems to have been the culprit. While the (then) Minister give the industry reprieve, the (then) Principal Secretary went ahead and launched the ban. Enter: confusion.

The ultimate loser in the saga is the environment. While the plastics industry’s claims to commence recycling of plastics and manufacturing of biodegradable products are positive, initial announcement followed by half-hearted retraction of the ban shows just how weak the government is in enforcing its own policies and legislation. Sadly, that leaves little hope that the ban will be compellingly revived in 2015.

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