One interesting thing about world order is that when security is mentioned, then it has to be physical. It should be security of a person, house or property. But one type of security threat that is generally ignored, or forgotten, is that of plastic bags.
These things look simple, innocent and perhaps enticing. But that is the trick plastics contain-waiting patiently and then pounce.
If you live in rural or urban areas of the country, among the nuisance that you come across are plastics, they are almost everywhere, blowing across roads or snagged in tree branches and streetlights.
Some produce bad smells, a sign that they are used as latrines. Plastics get into soil and slowly release toxic chemicals.
In urban areas, plastic bags cause significant environmental harm. Runoff water carries them to sewers. Once in sewers, the bags often form clumps with other type of debris and then block the flow of water.
This prevents runoff water from properly draining which inconveniences those living and working in the area.
Roads often flood when storm sewers become blocked which forces them to be closed until the water drains. The excess water can damage cars, buildings and other property. It also collects pollutants and spread them far and wide where they cause additional damage.
Clogged storm sewers can also disrupt the water flow throughout watersheds. Research shows that blocked sewer pipes can starve local wetlands, creeks and streams of the water way they require which can lead to massive die-offs and in some cases, total collapse.
Animals suffer a lot at the hands of plastic bags. When they eat them, they suffer from health problems.
A number of cattle die every year after eating plastic bags that are found in places they graze.
Animals that swallow plastic bags often suffer from intestinal obstructions which cause them to feel full then slowly waste away and die from malnutrition or starvation.
Wildlife has not been spared by plastic bags. They are their silent killers which are taken into the protected areas by people who seem not to understand their danger.
Speaking to The Nation in May this year, Lilongwe Wildlife Trust (LWT) communications manager Anna Dunlop described the problem as widespread in the country’s national parks and game reserves.
She said hungry wildlife mistake plastic waste for food which, when swallowed, cause health hazards. This results in serious complications in the animals.
In 2007, Status of Waste Management in Malawi 2007- 2016, a study by Patrick Medius Nyirenda from the Department of Environmental Affairs showed that Lilongwe generates 109 metric tonnes of waste per day.
However, only 30 percent of the waste is collected for disposal while the rest is indiscriminately disposed in open spaces, rivers, roadsides and other places, according to the report.
These are just some of the negative effects of plastic bags. Government was so worried that in April 2013, it banned the ‘production, importation, distribution and the use of plastic bags whose thickness is less than 60 microns’. However, enforcement was a problem because manufacturers challenged it in court despite government giving them a two-year breather to prepare for the prohibition.
Seeing that nothing was moving regarding the ban on the use of plastics, Lilongwe residents marched in protest. They felt discouraged by the fact that while government had wanted to end the use of plastics, manufacturers got an injunction that tied government’s hands.
As people prepared to march in Blantyre, the court gave government a go-ahead to effect the ban. However, a month has elapsed since the court ruling and plastics are still being sold. Does this mean that government has failed?
Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining spokesperson Sangwani Phiri said government is committed to banning the use of plastics in the country.
He said it would be unfair to declare an instant stop to selling plastic bags because a lot have already been produced.
“It seems manufacturers took advantage of the time there was a court injunction to produce many plastic bags. But we know what is happening and shortly we will enforce the ban,” said Phiri but he could not give a time scale.
During the previous ban, some manufacturers were still producing plastic bags secretly which resulted in the ministry imposing fines on some.
Phiri said he is aware that despite the ban, there will still be manufacturers who will be producing plastics secretly.
“We know that some companies will be manufacturing them at night and even in their houses. We are ready with this and our officials will be on the ground. Manufacturers and everyone should know that since the court’s judgement, it is illegal to manufacture plastic bags,” he said.
Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy (Cepa) programme officer of biodiversity Agatha Nkhonjera welcomed government’s decision to start implementing the ban.
“We wanted to march against plastic bags use, but after the court’s rule, we stopped. We need to do away with them because they are a nuisance and have negative effects not only to the environment, but also to aquatic animals like fish,” she said.
Nkhonjera suggested that government should give at least three months grace period then completely ban the sale of plastic bags.
Meanwhile, the High Court has again suspended the enforcement of the plastic ban, a situation that Wildlife and Environmental Society of Malawi (Wesm) has described as a disappointment and setback. n