Natural Resources

Malawi bans bags – of the plastic variety

Waste in Mwynekondo settlement in Lilongwe.

Waste in Mwynekondo settlement in Lilongwe.

In a seriously forward move, Malawi’s Ministry of Energy, Mining, and Natural Resources has banned the production and import of plastic material of a less than 60 micron thickness. Kudos. In a country with pathetic waste collection services but where the majority of waste is organic, this represents an important step in the right direction. Partly, it will hopefully help in reducing overall inorganic waste, and the negative impacts resulting from the common practice of burning or dumping waste. But also (fingers crossed), it may make for cleaner compost; many urban households bury their waste and later use it in their fields, but sadly rarely sort their waste prior to burying it.

Not everyone has been happy about the development, however. Plastic bag vendors have decried their loss of income as a result of the sudden ban, with one widowed vendor saying “At this point, I am hopeless since I have been doing this business for eight years, this small shop is the only thing my husband left for my family. My children’s food, clothes and school fees come from it, the ban has left me clueless as on what will come out of our future.” (As quoted in MANA Online) In response to the backlash, the government last week announced a two-week reprieve on the ban.

There are question marks over exactly how (and/or for how long) the plastics ban is going to be monitored and implemented, particularly in the country’s extensive informal economy. It is also evident that there was limited consultation on the law, resulting in unnecessary negative press for what is essentially a positive move for the the country. The good news is, however, that if the Malawian government is serious about minimising waste there are plenty of more ways to do it – just make sure you get the public on board.