On Wednesday 2 June 2010, the Minister of the Environment, Water and Forests, Mr Karim Fadika, announced to economic operators in the plastic industry that a law banning the manufacture and marketing of non-biodegradable plastic bags in Côte d’Ivoire would be adopted very soon. This is an initiative that is to our Minister’s credit and deserves everyone’s support, as Mr. André Carvalho, Director of the UNDP, emphasised. This measure will be accompanied by a vast communication campaign whose axis is: “an environment without plastic bags”. This law will contribute to solving part of the problem of waste management in our country, to preserving the environment and will irrevocably transform the face of our country.
Non-biodegradable bags are a source of considerable pollution throughout their life cycle. Their production consumes petroleum products, water and energy. We use 500 to 1000 billion plastic bags per year worldwide. If a bag takes several centuries (between 100 and 400 years) to degrade, it is on the other hand less and less solid (to guarantee more sales and therefore more profit?)(?), the result is that the average use of a bag in Africa is less than 48 hours.
They are found everywhere in cities, in natural environments: fields, rivers, mountains and beaches, where they contribute to the degradation of the landscape. In open-air dumps, these bags fly away and end up wherever the wind takes them, sometimes on your windscreen when you are in traffic!
It is difficult to move around Abidjan for even an hour, whether on foot, by bicycle or by car, without seeing piles of bags on the edge of the road or in the gutters, our black, white, blue or striped plastic bags that we use and nonchalantly throw wherever we want and which end up in poetic volutes in the drains…
The use and especially the way we dispose of these bags causes significant damage to water and sewage systems. They aggravate the problems of insalubrity, by clogging the drains, they accentuate flooding in the rainy season. Flooding causes a lot of material damage and above all loss of life!
Scourge for Biodiversity/ scourge for fauna and flora
They are responsible for the destruction of biodiversity when they strand in the wild. Each year, they cause the death of tens of thousands of marine animals who mistake them for prey such as turtles, dolphins and tuna, but also domestic animals and farm animals.
The end of life of plastic bags is particularly harmful for the environment and for human health: incineration is the only effective “method” we have to get rid of them. When they go up in smoke, they release dioxins that are carcinogenic and can cause or aggravate respiratory diseases in humans, especially children.
Although plastic bags are a nuisance, the fact remains that this industry provides thousands of jobs for Ivorians. Not to mention the huge sums of money that have been invested, often by private individuals, in the construction and equipment of production plants. This socio-economic problem must have made more than one Minister of the Environment back down! This is why it is essential for the government to put in place accompanying measures so that the conversion phase is as painless as possible for those concerned.
Biodegradable bags, the panacea?
Made from corn starch or biodegradable polymer, biodegradable bags are indeed a significant improvement for the environment, but it should be noted that the use of biodegradable bags does not mean that they have no impact on the environment.
Indeed, an abandoned biodegradable bag will take several months to disappear or even years (between 2 and 3 years), depending on the environment where it is found. They are therefore much less tough than our current “century-old” bags. However, these biodegradable bags, abandoned in nature, are just as capable of flying away at the first gust of wind and getting stuck in the branches of a tree… The risk of visual pollution therefore still exists, especially if human behaviour remains the same… It is therefore essential to accompany the development of the use of biodegradable bags by setting up a collection or sorting system for used packaging, but also and above all, by communicating to the general public on the need to avoid throwing away these bags in nature In this respect, the operation “an environment without plastic bags” initiated by the Ministry of the Environment will not be too much, because the real problem, once again, is our inconsistent behaviour in relation to our living environment. It is therefore necessary to educate, inform and even punish if necessary because waste management is not to be taken lightly.
OPTION: The reusable wicker bag or basket is, from a strict environmental and economic point of view, preferable to the disposable bag (biodegradable or not) from a strict environmental point of view.
Box Some countries where the non-biodegradable plastic bag is undesirable
South Africa :
Soon Côte d’Ivoire and Togo …