The government has announced that it would be moving to enforce a total ban on the manufacture, use or trading in plastic bags in mainland Tanzania. Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa told Parliament on Tuesday that the ban will come into force in June.
Manufacturers and general traders dealing in the merchandise have a two-month window within which to adjust to the expected shift in the business.
We welcome the move and commend the government for finally coming to terms with the heavy cost on our environment and the economy caused by the continued use of plastic bags.
For many years the government has dillydallied, only issuing sweeping statements that came to naught in the end. Influence peddling - and we would not rule out corruption - came into play whenever a ban was mooted. Not even the prohibiting of retailers from providing single-use, lightweight polyethylene plastic bags (less than 35 microns) was effective.
It is an undeniable fact that the continued and unchecked use of plastic bags has caused untold damage to the environment and endangered the health of humans and other living things alike. It is now unsustainable and must be brought to a halt. Tanzania is in fact late, but it is gratifying to note that it will now join Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda and Zanzibar, which have already enforced a similar ban.
Rwanda and Zanzibar, which have for years enforced bans on plastic bags, are testimony to how significantly transformational the prohibition can be. No effort should be spared in ensuring that everybody complies come June. Smuggling of this product from neighbouring countries that have yet to impose a similar ban should not be tolerated.
We can only hope that the government is well prepared to roll out the ban, while at the same time ensure that fears of job or revenue losses don't bog it down. A strategy to help manufactures overcome their fears and change course will be welcome.
Supporting entrepreneurs who have already shifted to trading in environment-friendly biodegradable bags is paramount too in helping to bridge the gap that is likely to arise. Many such businesses were failing due to unfair competition from cheap supplies of plastic bags.
In addition to the ban, we urge the government and other stakeholders, including members of the international community, to help Tanzania rehabilitate the environment from the many years of damage caused by the unrestrained manufacture and use of polythene bags.
Tanzania must stand up and be counted among members of the global community out to end the menace of polythene bags. On average, we only recycle one plastic bag in every 200 that we use.
An estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide annually. That adds up to over a million per minute. Billions end up as litter each year, leading to an uphill struggle to keep our homes, cities and water bodies clean.
Billions of shillings are spent annually to keep the environment clean. This is money that could otherwise be better spent in other productive areas of the economy. Each one of us must be accountable and stand up and be counted too as the time to move on is right now.