Government has with immediate effect banned the use of polystyrene material, commonly known as kaylite, and related plastic packaging citing health hazards and pollution. The ban will mostly affect the food industry, especially vendors and fast-food outlets. Kaylite manufacturers provided a cheaper form of packaging which, however, created environmental challenges.
Exposure to chemicals emitted by heated kaylite causes headaches, weakness, respiratory tract, gastrointestinal and minor kidney effects.
It also decreases concentration abilities and may cause irritation of the mucous membrane and affect the eyes, nose and throat.
Studies have shown that increased styrene exposure leads to chromosomal damage, abnormal pulmonary function and cancer.
With emphasis on reusing and recylcing of materials, polystyrene cannot be recycled, while its non-biodegradable nature means it is ingested by aquatic animals that humans later consume.
This badly affects the environment.
The Environmental Management Agency (EMA), through their board chairperson Ambassador Zenzo Nsimbi, said in a statement that Government considered the health of the nation in arriving at the decision.
"The Environmental Management Agency has with immediate effect activated Statutory Instrument 84 of 2012 (Plastic Packaging and Plastic Bottles) (Amendment) Regulations, 2012 (No 1.), which prohibits the manufacture or importation of expanded polystyrene (kaylite) for use or commercial distribution within Zimbabwe," he said.
Ambassador Nsimbi said the decision was arrived at after wide consultation with stakeholders.
"The ban has been effected after wide consultation in order to protect the citizens of Zimbabwe from the environmental and health impacts caused by expanded polystyrene (kaylite)," he said.
The ban comes a few days after Environment, Water and Climate Minister Cde Oppah Muchinguri read the riot act against councils, companies and individuals that pollute the environment.
Cde Muchinguri said stern measures would be taken against those who pollute the environment, with prospects of offenders being sued. She said it could not be business as usual, as Government steps up efforts to maintain a clean and safe environment.
The ban on kaylites will also affect those in the transport industry who use polystyrene as cushion against the damage of goods in transit. Polystyrene is also widely used in construction.
The Statutory Instrument states that any company that generates the material would take responsibility to recycle it. Studies have shown that kaylite is not economically viable to recycle and it is feared to cause cancer from the styrene gas it emits.
Packed with 57 potent chemicals that generate toxic by-products when burnt, polystyrene is feared to leach into packaged food, thereby exposing consumers to health risk.
Used to serve mostly warm food, the kaylites release styrene when they get into contact with warm food and drink, alcohol, oils and acidic foods.
Industry that use kaylites screamed yesterday over the ban.
Mr Tawanda Mutyebere of Chicken Slice said the ban was harmful to their operations. "Government's announcement that it has immediately effected SI 84 becomes very difficult for us to operate since we have been using them for years," he said.
"This simply means that we must stop trading, kicking us out of business and Government is supposed to give us some time and should have consulted with stakeholders."
Simbisa Brands (Chicken Inn) managing director Mr Warren Meares said they would explore better packaging.
"We use them all the time to serve our three million customers in the country and the announcement by Government to stop using kaylites means we have to conform to the law," he said.
"We will have to find a solution for a better packaging. We have been talking to the Minister of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing (Saviour Kasukuwere) and EMA for us to look for a solution. We appreciate where the Government is coming from and we respect it."