Ban on plastic bags

Thursday, August 09, 2018

The Gambia has banned the importation and use of plastic bags in the country in July 2015. This discussion was prompted with the surge in indiscriminate use of plastic bags in The Gambia, which poses a serious threat to the fragile ecosystem of the country. Plastic bags are also responsible for suffocation deaths of sea and land animals, as well as inhibiting soil nutrients.

But it appears that since then there have been little efforts to totally stop the use of plastic bags in the country. The recent surge in the number of plastic bags on the streets is just alarming. It’s convenient for shoppers to tote their purchases in ‘free’ plastic bags, but this convenience takes a huge toll on the environment. Expanded polystyrene (EPS) used for food containers take up to a million years to decompose. Plastic bags are made of polyethylene, a material produced by petroleum and natural gas, which is not biodegradable. When they are indiscriminately discarded, the winds toss them along the roadway, they clog drains and waterways, or leach chemicals into the soil and they wash up on the shores.

Animals and marine life are at risk because of the continued use of plastic. Indeed, one of the main drivers behind the ban is to lower the amount of plastic that will find its way into the marine world. It is estimated that more than 250 species of animals have been harmed by ingesting plastic or becoming entangled in the discarded material.

The Gambia like many developing nations of Africa is at the forefront of the war on plastic. Already, many countries on the African continent have either banned plastic or placed taxes on their production, distribution and use.

As other nations joined the fight, there were reports of significant reduction in the usage of plastic bags and the resultant damage to the environment. As Europe aims to cut plastic usage by 80 per cent by 2019, countries have employed measures such as bans, taxes and fines to put some teeth into the effort to curb the use of plastic. In some cases, the money goes into an environmental fund.

Together with the official ban, the government needs to emphasis that individuals must accept some personal responsibility for the manner in which they treat waste and dispose of garbage as a way of responding to the environmental crisis brought on by plastic use.

Then there is the matter of enforcement of the ban. In assessing the efficacy of legislation such as the anti-littering law, it is evident that compliance is a major problem.

Littering is a behavioural choice, and too many Gambians treat the environment with scant regard. Educating the people on the dangers associated with littering and improper disposal of garbage is critical if these attitudes are to change.

In the absence of consistent enforcement and realistic penalties, we cannot see the ban working.

“Plastic bags are bad and for the most part unnecessary.”

David Suzuki