More than a year after the Supreme Court of Appeal upheld a government ban on thin plastics, some companies continue to produce and sell the banned 60 micrometres thin plastics.
During a two-month undercover investigation, this reporter managed to buy the banned plastics with ease from at least three companies.
Armed with K18 900, we bought 70 thin plastic bags from three firms.
The investigation in June took us to Rainbow Plastics in Limbe, Blantyre. The company produces and distributes different plastics, including some less than 60 micrometres.
At the firm, we easily bought two sizes of blue thin plastics, used for packaging salt, that are used for packaging salt, which were publicly displayed in their shop.
“We have all types of plastics here,” said one of the shopkeepers after we specifically asked for the banned type.
When we tried to talk to the firm’s management on why they were still selling the banned product, their two ground phones were not available.
At the second firm, OG Plastics Industries in Maone, Blantyre, which we visited on June 2 this year, we were first told that the company stopped manufacturing thin plastics.
But an employee later directed us on how we could acquire them from the same company without raising suspicions.
And true to the employee’s advice, we were duly assisted when we called a number that he gave us.
On June 4, the Department of Environmental Affairs confirmed that it had sealed OG Plastics after it transpired that it was still trading in banned thin plastics.
OG Plastics chief executive officer Kaushal Shah argued that the thin plastics which the agency found at the time of the inspection were from an old stock.
“If you go to our factory, you will notice that the machines for producing the thin plastics are idle. They have been so since the [court] ruling. However, other machines producing packaging plastics are up and running for various orders.
“It is wrong for the department to constantly accuse us of flouting procedures,” he said.
Polypack in Maselema is another company which we visited. There, too, we were told by a worker that they stopped producing thin plastics.
Instead, we were referred to Plastic Centre in Limbe, where vendors flock in large numbers to order plastics for re-sale at various markets in Blantyre City; and we managed to buy 30 thin plastic bags.
In July this year, Plastic Centre owner Mark Dunga told us that he was selling thin plastics.
“Yes, I still have them. I know that we are not allowed to trade in thin plastics, but we will stop soon, I have remained with only few thin plastics,” he said.
But until October this year Plastic Centre shop in Limbe was still selling the banned product.
In May, we were tipped that another company in Lilongwe City, Plastics Industries, was producing thin plastics.
Before we travelled there, government pounced on the firm for defying its ban.
Manufacturing and trading of thin plastics is illegal, according to director of Environmental Affairs Tawonga Mbale-Luka.
She says, according to plastics regulations; no one is allowed to trade in thin plastics regardless of whether it is old or new stock.
“It is illegal to do so. All the old stock should be disposed of in an environmentally sound manner,” said Luka.
She said her office has several times inspected plastic manufacturing companies to determine if they are compliant with the Environment Management (Plastics) Regulations of 2015.
Luka said all the companies that were found to be contravening regulations have been closed, and the matters were reported to police for prosecution.
She said one of the prosecuted companies was convicted and given a three-month suspended sentence while its machine was forfeited.
“However, there may be some companies that are still producing plastics and to that effect, the ministry will continue monitoring to ensure compliance,” said Luka.
She also said all companies still defying the court ruling will be taken to court.
“Now, we have full support from government, so we will go after them,” she added.
Save Kumwenda of the Department of Environmental Health at the Polytechnic warns that if Malawi continues to produce thin plastics, the country will have huge problems that will take ages and a lot of resources to be rectified.
“In the first place, our environments are already polluted with plastics. Agriculture farms close to busy markets and cities are already polluted with plastics. We have most of sewage blockages and drains during rainy season due to plastics. This means we are already losing out resources due to production of thin plastics,” said Kumwenda.
He further explained that studies have shown that in some parts of the country drinking water is polluted with nanoparticles from plastics.
“We do not have technologies to remove them. If we continue producing them, we will need expensive technologies to deal with such problems. It’s better to avoid these problems now than later,” said Kumwenda.
He said the country started well towards winning the fight to end use of thin plastics below 60 micrometres but the end is a challenge.
“After winning the battle on the ban of thin plastic in 2019, what we now need is to enforce the regulation and let the law take its course. This can only be possible if first we have strong political will,” said Kumwenda.
In June, former minister of Environment, Tourism and Wildlife Symon Vuwa Kaunda ordered the re-opening of four plastic manufacturing companies which were sealed for contravening the law.
The move angered environmental activists under Movement for Environmental Action, who called for an investigation into the matter.
After a four-year court battle, in July last year a seven-judge panel of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal chaired by the Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda upheld government’s ban on production, distribution and importation of thin plastics of less than 60 microns.