Do plastic bans make a difference?

Do plastic bans make a difference?

Do plastic bans make a difference?

The increasing amount of plastic waste is a global concern, leading countries in Africa, Asia, and other regions to consider banning single-use materials. But the question is, do plastic bans work?

Nigeria took a significant step in January to address its waste crisis by implementing a ban on single-use plastics. The Lagos State government made the decision to not only outlaw Styrofoam packaging but also gradually phase out other forms of single-use plastics. This move aligns with the efforts of many African countries, as 34 nations on the continent have already implemented bans on various types of single-use plastics and packaging. It is worth noting that these materials, which contribute to climate change, are predominantly made from fossil fuels.

Rwanda deserves recognition for being a pioneer in this area, as it introduced a ban on one-way plastic bags and bottles back in 2008. The success of this initiative can be seen in the clean streets of Kigali, the capital city, which serve as a benchmark for the region.

The impact of plastic prohibition is also evident in the United States, where five states and cities have implemented bans that have resulted in a reduction of approximately 6 billion bags per year.

Furthermore, the European Union has taken significant steps by banning various single-use plastics, including straws and take-away containers.

While these plastic bans are a positive step, experts emphasize the need for a broader shift away from our “throwaway culture.” They argue that in order to prevent the predicted tripling of plastic production by 2050, toxic plastics must be phased out entirely. It is crucial to address the issue of plastic waste comprehensively to ensure a sustainable future.

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Why are governments resorting to plastic bans?

Do plastic bans make a difference?

Governments are implementing plastic bans for various reasons. In Nigeria, for example, plastic waste management is severely lacking, leading to numerous environmental issues.

According to Temitope O. Sogbanmu, a senior lecturer at the University of Lagos, single-use plastics are causing problems such as clogged streets, sewers, and even flooding. These plastics also end up in coastal communities and harm marine habitats.

Styrofoam, commonly used for food packaging, is particularly problematic. Due to the insufficient collection and recycling infrastructure in Lagos, a ban on plastics becomes a necessary measure to tackle the waste problem.

Hellen Kahaso Dena from Greenpeace Africa’s Pan-African Plastics Project supports this ban as a positive step towards addressing the health and environmental impacts of plastic pollution on marginalized communities.

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The Essential Role of Consultation in Prohibiting Plastic

Consultation is crucial in the fight against plastic prohibition. Despite receiving support from environmental advocates, the styrofoam ban in Nigeria’s capital has faced criticism.

Local food vendors in Lagos’ markets express concerns about losing business and suggest that the government should provide alternative options.

Lecturer Sogbanmu agrees, emphasizing the need for government support or subsidies to make biodegradable alternatives more affordable and accessible.

She highlights that successful implementation of any plastic ban requires a combination of top-down legislative action, enforcement, and extensive consultation and education, particularly among Nigeria’s large youth population.

In the case of Rwanda, the United Nations Development Program stated that “citizen engagement” played a vital role in achieving cleanliness, reducing pollution, and introducing plastic alternatives. The Rwandan government has collaborated with Norway to implement a Global Treaty to End Plastic Pollution by 2040, demonstrating their long-term commitment to eradicating plastic.

Weyinmi Okotie, a clean energy campaigner for the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives and Break Free From Plastics Africa, has noticed a significant decrease in styrofoam availability in Lagos since the ban. He believes this is due to a fear of arrest among suppliers.


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Some reasons behind the failure of plastic bans

Do plastic bans make a difference?

One of the plastic bag bans that was put into effect in Africa was in Kenya back in 2017. However, seven years later, plastic bags are still widely available in markets all over the country.

Dorothy Otieno, a programs officer at Kenya’s Centre for Environmental Justice and Development, explained that the local plastics industry, which was against the ban, simply shifted their operations to Uganda, where there is no ban in place.

By nurturing links within Kenya, manufacturers can reintroduce plastic bags into markets, facilitated by the permeable border, which significantly streamlines illicit trade.

Despite the threat of imprisonment and a hefty fine of 4 million Kenyan shillings (US$28,900, €26,300) for both sellers and buyers of plastic bags, Otieno mentioned that the low cost still attracts lower-income consumers who cannot afford more expensive alternatives.

The failure to encourage communities to embrace plastic bans also highlights the importance of gradually phasing out common, inexpensive packaging, as noted by Temitope O. Sogbanmu.

She highlighted that Nigeria, for example, uses and discards 60 million small-serving plastic sachets of water daily, emphasizing that successfully implementing a ban would require introducing a solution for drinking water beforehand.

Similarly, in India, a ban on single-use plastics in 2022 initially failed due to a lack of affordable alternatives and the influence of the country’s powerful plastics industry, according to campaigners.


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The Ultimate Solution: Enforcing a Worldwide Ban on Plastics

A worldwide ban on plastics is the ultimate answer. Cooperation and coordination among African countries, similar to the EU’s ban on single-use plastics, can enhance the effectiveness of national bans.

Sogbanmu believes that a global agreement on plastics is the key. Currently under negotiation, this accord has the potential to reduce global plastic pollution by 80% by 2040.

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