Government has started cracking its whip on plastic manufacturers that have failed to comply with the ban of plastic bags whose thickness is less than 60 microns.
Malawi banned production, importation, distribution and use of plastic bags in April 2013, but enforcement has been a problem because manufacturers challenged it in court despite government giving them a two-year breather to prepare for the prohibition.
On Friday, the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining shut down two manufacturing companies in Blantyre and fined two others for failing to comply with the law.
The closed companies are Aero Plastics in Chirimba Industrial Area and Rainbow Plastic at Mapanga.
Anchor Industries and OG Plastics at Ginnery Corner and Maone Industrial Area respectively, were fined K1 million ($1 333) each following last month’s inspection.
But chairperson of the Plastic Manufacturers Association, Vijay Kumar, said his committee would be meeting over the matter to map the way forward and ensure that companies comply with the law.
“Closing of companies is bad for the economy because in the end you penalise thousands of innocent people and that has huge impact on the economy. If you find something wrong the best is a fine.
“Government needs to implement this step by step while ensuring that there is dialogue going on with the industry on the matter,” said Vijay.
He added that a number of companies such as Polypack, Easypack and OG Issa have already brought into the country new machines for producing the 60 microns plastic bags.
Spokesperson for the Department of Environment and Climate Change in the ministry, Sangwani Phiri, explained that the closure of companies was in line with Section 76 (1) of the Environment Management Act number 26 of 1996.
The Act provides the director of Environment Affairs Department to order closure of any premises upon believing that the Act or any regulations have been contravened.
Phiri further said regulation 3 of the Environment Management (Plastics) Regulations 2015 prohibits importation, manufacturing, trade and commercial distribution of plastics, plastic bags and plastic sheets made of plastic film for use within Malawi with a wall thickness of less than 60 micrometres.
“The closed companies will be summoned to explain to the director [environmental affairs] why they do not feel compelled to adhere to the set standards despite several discussions on the matter,” said Phiri.
While lamenting the shutting down of his company, Rainbow Plastic managing director Abdul Majid Sattar said he could not argue with the law and would follow due procedure before resuming production.
The manufacturers have said more than 5 000 people in the country would lose their jobs following the ban, whose deadline was June 30 2015.
The ban is a critical global environmental issue because the plastic papers are difficult to dispose of and hazardous to health with environmentalists recommending use of paper bags, cloth bags and sisal bags as an alternative because they can be reused and are biodegradable.