Do Plastic Bag Bans Work?

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Are we finally getting rid of plastic bags?

By: Nelisa Khwela

On the 28th of August 2017, Kenya made the use, manufacturing, and import of non-recyclable plastic bags illegal. Selling plastic bags could result in 4 years in jail, a $38 000 (R491 896.70) fine or both. Previous attempts had been made to decrease plastic bag usage but this is the first time that such a drastic approach has been taken.

This leads one to wonder if a similar ban in South Africa could work. South Africa has made its own attempt at reducing the usage of plastic bags through charging consumers for plastic bags. However, the price of plastic bags is not high enough to significantly reduce demand.

In Kenya, it is estimated that almost 28 million bags are used monthly so this decision makes sense from an environmental perspective, however, it has serious economic implications. According to the Kenyan Association of Manufacturers there are 176 plastic bag manufacturers in the country and a reported 1.2 million jobs which will be affected by the ban.

Rwanda, which implemented a total ban on plastic bags in 2008, has been considered one of the success stories of plastic bag bans. Kigali was named one of the cleanest cities in Africa by UN Habitat in 2008. To combat the economic impact of the ban, Rwanda offered tax incentives to manufacturers in order to encourage recycling plastic bags instead of producing them. The ban created a market for Eco-friendly bags. Despite that, a black market emerged and some still smuggle plastic bags from neighbouring countries.

Based on observing bans in an African context, it can be said that a ban in South Africa would work given that it fully commits to its implementation. Supermarkets could start using recyclable, biodegradable paper bags and that would increase the demand for Eco-friendly bags. South Africa would have to adapt to similar challenges faced by Kenya and Rwanda, allocate additional resources to monitoring plastic bag usage and recoup job losses that would be a result of the ban.

As environmental concerns increase, perhaps in years to come cashiers will ask, “Paper bag?”

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