5 August 2015

Malawi: Plastic Paper Ban - a Misery to People, a Refuge to the Environment

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Much as environmental pollution has been highly attributed to plastics being dumped willy-nilly and helter-skelter, we have to appreciate that the problem is much of poor waste management than it is about plastics only.

Plastic manufacturing industries are one of the earliest investors who entered the Malawian economy. They created jobs and pay tax dividends to revenue collectors.

In the long run they contributed to economic development of this country through industrial production. This in return increased the country's gross domestic product thereby contributing to the increase in the gross national income.

You don't need to study textbook economics in order to understand the impact played by the plastic manufacturing industry. And neither do you need to be a technocrat in macroeconomics in order to appreciate the role played by the manufacturing industry in the Malawi economy.

However, as plastics were being produced and consumed by the general population, environmentalists lacked hindsight or indeed gave a blind eye to the cumulative effects of plastics on the environment.

As technocrats in the field of environment, they sure would understand that waste management lies in their hands. And also, Information, Education and Communication on proper waste management conduct to the general population are a portion of their duties and responsibilities.

Fortunate enough, we have very many environmentalists in city assemblies, district assemblies and indeed the ministry of health.

To say they have failed us would be tantamount to committing the fallacy of hasty generalisation because their might be underlying factors as to why they did not fully conduct their duties and responsibilities.

However, in the interim, we can only assume and assert that they have underperformed as technocrats.

In perspective, having observed that plastics are the biggest convict in pollution, banning them is indeed a necessary evil. However, when global environmental policy makers are deciding on crucial issues such as the ban on plastics, attention had to be paid to the heterogeneity of different countries affected by such a ban. It should not be a one-size-fits-all approach because doing so would be grossly damaging to the economies of developing countries like Malawi.

Why? Countries like Malawi have not yet created alternatives for plastics in their economies. Available options such as biodegradable plastics are very expensive to produce due to the high cost of raw materials and the low productivity associated with the process.

For instance, in plantation agriculture the tea and tree growers in the country rely on plastics to construct green houses for their seedlings/plantations.

They also use plastic jumbos to grow and the nurture seedlings into small trees until they are ready for planting into the fields. It is unfathomable for to acquire expensive biodegradable plastics which they will use only once and discard within a short period.

A possible remedy to this would have been a government waiver of taxes on import of raw materials meant for the production of biodegradable plastics within the country by local manufacturers as opposed to importation of fully produced biodegradable plastics.

The reasons are: manufacturers would still retain their workforce thereby creating employment to further help develop the economy at per capita level; Manufacturers would still be able to pay tax to revenue collectors hence contributing to the growth of the economy once again; environmentalist would less be worried about pollution of the environment.

Moral of the story: there is a need to cooperate and corroborate whenever we are making decisions that affect the economy at large and people's lives in particular. Therefore Scientists, environmentalist, social scientists et cetera need to coordinate in whatever decisions they make affecting large sections of the global society.

One last aspect of loss to the economy is in small and medium enterprises. Whenever we go for shopping in towns and markets across the nation, we either find young men selling jumbos or indeed hawkers selling jumbos to earn a living.

Mind you, these people are mostly jobless and unemployable such that to them selling jumbos is a means of survival. Some of them have sustained lives, educated children and maintained happy families through jumbo sales or indeed plastics.

Has anybody quantified their economic loss? Will they afford to acquire and sell biodegradable plastics that are already in rare supply? In case they are driven out of business where are they going to go? For the strong, industrious, creative and muscular young men, what do we expect of them? It goes without saying that inequality and inequity breed's destitution.

Destitution breeds desperation. Desperation and destitution are fertile grounds for crime and misconduct.

Are we ready to face the music? The impact of the plastic ban is immense, underrated and a time-ticking bomb on our faces.

*Khwereliwa Arthur Phiri, a social commentator, Health worker and a stakeholder of the health systems in Malawi. If you have opinions of national importance, send them to editor@malawi24.com

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