Regional MPs, traders discuss proposed ban on plastic bags

The East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) is consulting internally on how to proceed after business leaders requested for more time to allow for further consultations on the EAC Polythene Materials Control Bill, 2016, The New Times has learnt.
Elimination of polythene bags may have negative impact, businesses say. / Internet photo
Elimination of polythene bags may have negative impact, businesses say. / Internet photo

The East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) is consulting internally on how to proceed after business leaders requested for more time to allow for further consultations on the EAC Polythene Materials Control Bill, 2016, The New Times has learnt.

The Bill was recently re-introduced for the second time during the August 2016 sitting in Arusha, Tanzania, by MP Patricia Hajabakiga (Rwanda) after it failed to be approved at the Heads of State summit in 2013.

 

The Bill aims at providing a legal framework for the preservation of a clean and healthy environment through the prohibition of manufacturing, sale, importation and use of polythene materials in the East African Community (EAC).

 

Ever since its reintroduction, businesses voiced concerns and they reiterated their call for more consultations during a dinner hosted by the East African Business Council (EABC) in Kigali on Tuesday.

 

The EABC executive director, Lilian Awinja, said the Bill is a good initiative but since they have received concerns from members of the regional business community, the Assembly ought to consider allowing more time for “sufficient consultations.”

“We kindly request that you allow us to undertake thorough private sector consultations and give input to EALA before the passing of this Bill,” Awinja told EALA Speaker Daniel Kidega and other lawmakers.

The EABC has already officially written to the Speaker– and it will most likely take the Assembly to make a decision.

During the dinner, Rwandan businessman Denis Karera, who is also the EABC Vice Chairperson, told lawmakers that the “sensitive Bill” requires more time.

“We think it would make more sense to do a bit more, better consultations with members of the private sector and then we give our input,” Karera said.

Ugandan and Kenyan traders have particularly been more vocal against the new draft legislation.

Godfrey Ssali, a Policy Analyst and Advocacy Officer of the Uganda Manufacturers Association (UMA), said they have submitted their proposed amendments to the Bill, and these include a change of its title to put emphasis on regulation rather than prohibition because polythene is just one of many other wastes such as e-waste, medical waste, chemical waste, industrial waste, and domestic waste already in the environment.

UMA together with the Plastics Subsector, the Uganda Plastics Manufacturers and Recyclers Association (UPMRA), propose that the Bill emphasises and includes “proper waste management practices right from source.”

Ssali explained that this is because “we all generate waste in various forms right from our homes, offices, schools, hospitals, hotels, and farms to cities and rural areas.”

“The Bill is almost silent about the already existing international conventions, laws and agreements of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) where all the five EAC partner states are signatories to the binding agreements whose goal is to champion national and regional mitigation and adaptation as a strategy to combat the effects of Climate Change to humanity and environment,” Ssali added.

“The Bill should lay emphasis to deterring littering and improper waste disposal and not use microns as a standard measure. This is because some sectors can’t use thirty microns and above; for example, medical use plastics, catering plastics and food sector plastics.”

According to the UMA official, microns standards were developed by the Bureau of Standards in conjunction with the private sector, and are currently in use in Uganda but still littering and improper waste disposal is happening.

“And so, the Bill should have more tight regulations, fines and penalties as is the practice in the western world. Remember that minus solving littering, farm animals and the farmland will continue chocking on poorly disposed plastic waste.”

Among other things, Ssali said, all manufacturers in the EAC partner states must comply within 12 months or risk factory closure by establishing recycling units at their premises and prove by documented records that they recollect as well as buy back plastic waste from the communities.

“We propose deletion of the proposal to limit the manufacture of polythene bags in the EAC as many industries in some EAC partner states are already fully compliant by both manufacturing and recycling plastic waste.

“Therefore, this decision will attract legal challenges and heavy compensation financial requests to both EAC and EALA as industries already followed their Government’s advice to fully recycle so as to stop the pressure and call for the ban on plastics.”

According to Ssali, the Bill does not consider the current level of import and export that the sector generates to national coffers.

“More than 250 million dollars’ worth of exports to EAC neighbours like Sudan, Somalia, Congo, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Central Africa Republic comes from plastics manufacturers in EAC,” he said.

In its current form, he says, the Bill does not foresee promising development prospects and great opportunities as a region that will accrue from ongoing trade negotiations on the Free Trade area (FTA) which involves the three economic communities of EAC, COMESA and SADC.

“Uganda as well as the other plastics sector players envisage to gain from the immense opportunities from the polythene sector which will benefit the country and region as a whole in terms of increased investments, industrialisation , jobs and national revenues.”

The Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) also submitted its own analysis of the implications of the Bill.

The Kenyan business community, among other things, highlights what they consider will be the impact of a polythene ban on their economy.

A copy of their submission, which The Saturday Times has seen, partly states that imposing a ban to address one aspect of environmental waste (polythene) does not resolve the identified problem of inadequate waste management and create a sustainable solution to the problem.

“The question we should ask ourselves is - will EAC countries be imposing bans and shut down developmental activities on each identified waste, every time it possess as a challenge or are we going to develop long-term sustainable solutions?” they state.

Similarly, according to KMA, proposing exceptions to identified waste such as polythene bags does not resolve the problem without introducing and monitoring its proper waste management.

“The prohibition or elimination of plastic bags has a direct and substantial effect on sustainability of existing polythene businesses and as a result affect the economy of Kenya. There exists a thriving polythene bags industry in the country that supports employment and contributes to the tax base of the country.”

The KMA submission to the Assembly proposes some solutions to address polythene waste and also lists recommendations in terms of amendments to the Bill.

One such amendment is the inclusion of provisions to encourage use of bio-degradable products and recycling such as national fiscal incentives such as Green Levy Funds to address plastic waste management; tax incentives to promote manufacture and use of bio degradable packaging products; tax incentives for capital goods for recycling; tax rebates to industries promoting waste management; and imposition of penalties for littering in unlawful places to deter littering, among others.

Besides inclusion of provisions on monitoring and reporting measures, they also want inclusion of provisions on waste management process including waste awareness, waste collection, waste transportation, waste segregation, waste recycling, waste disposal and waste minimisation and control.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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