Tanzania: Plastic Bags Use - Recipe for Disaster

A WARNING has been sounded over the tendency of consuming food cooked and stored in plastic bags, saying the practice has serious health effects with cancer being the number one disease that they will likely contract.

The Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Vice-President's Office, Ambassador Joseph Sokoine and other environmentalists, sounded the warning but suggested that it is high time alternative bags that are affordable for every citizen are made available.

He said food vendors, who cook food using or storing it in plastic bags endanger the health of consumers due to the fact that some ingredients of poison from the plastic contaminate the food, especially if it is hot.

"Health is important, so we must take steps to protect the health for our own benefit and the nation as a whole," he said.

The Deputy Permanent Secretary made the remarks in Dar es Salaam yesterday during a meeting that involved various environmental stakeholders to discuss opportunities for investing in production of alternative bags.

Mr Sokoine said plastic bags pose a number of serious effects, including deaths of animals, blocking infrastructure such as sewerage system and spreading diseases. He said the country would cooperate with United Nations in taking effective actions to control the disaster.

According to statistics, Tanzania uses eight to 10 billion plastic bags in a year. If immediate steps are not taken to reverse the trend, we will be subjecting the nation into the danger of environmental disasters," he said.

He added that it is estimated that at present, every Tanzanian uses three to four bags in a week with studies showing that by 2050 much plastic garbage will be floating in the sea, endangering the marine life.

Mr Sokoine said, according to studies, plastic packaging materials take about 500 to 1,000 years to decompose and take centuries to decay in the environment." This means that all plastic packages that were produced in 1950s are still in the environment and will be there in 500 years to come," he said.

He added that plastic products began to be used in large quantities worldwide around the 1950s.

According to the Deputy Permanent Secretary plastic bags are mostly used as packaging material for food, medicines and fertilisers, home furniture like chairs and tables, building materials such as water pipes and even clothing.

Ambassador Sokoine said large part of plastic bags are used for preserving transported goods and end up at sea, adding that, according to the United Nations Environment Programme, more than 80 per cent of the plastic trash found in water bodies are disposed by human beings.

"It is estimated that, every single mile of seawater contains about 46,000 plastic tracts. Each one of us here is involved in this huge contamination of the sea in one way or another. This situation contributes to the deaths of marine species," he said.

He said that plastic bags floating in the water for a long time contributes to transporting pathogens from one location to another.

According to him, statistics indicate that approximately half of the plastic waste produced include plastic bags and the management capacity and control of plastic waste is poor and is not only a threat to social health and environmental protection, but also economy and the future of the present and future generations.

Environmental Officer from Zanzibar Authority of environmental control, Ms Haidar Machano said they will continue with their operation to control use of plastic bags in the isles, whereby from October 2011 to July 2018 a total of 7.6 tonnes of plastic bags were confiscated and 548 traders arrested.

An environmental activist from Kilimanjaro Region, Mr Hanta Fuime issued a warning saying that others who are getting affected are those who preserve or cover food in plastic bags, yet there are those who boil water and preserve it in such bags.

Mr Fuime was addressing Moshi Municipal councillors on side effects of plastic bags, during a meeting which was held here.

"Many food vendors do cover food they cook with plastic bags so that it ripens fast without having any ideas about the side effects of their decisions, which include that of causing cancer to their clients in future," he said, adding, the danger also affects the vendors themselves because they do also consume the foods they cook and serve.

According to him, the unhealthy habits of covering foods they cook applied with the vendors were also the sources of other side effects which he said included the reproductive system among women and the affection to unborn children while in the stage of pregnancy.

"Apart from covering food, other people have made plastic bags as part of the products meant for domestic uses, whereby you find one making charcoal fire by using plastic bags, without knowing that they affect their health by inhaling smoke from burned plastics during the processes.

"Other people do boil water for different purposes including drinking, whereby after boiling the water they preserve in plastic containers, something which is very dangerous to their health," he said.

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