An official of the South West Regional Delegation of Environment, Protection of Nature and Sustainable Development, (MINEPDED), has said plastic wrappings that went into circulation after the April 24 ban are fake.
By Regina Fonjia Leke
The official said investigations carried out by MINEPDED have shown that there are no machines in Cameroon that can produce bio-degradable plastics.
She said the purported bio-degradable plastics that went into circulation a few days after the ban were fake and the Ministry will spare no effort in seizing all such plastics.
“What was written on the plastic was ‘plastique oxodegradable’. This does not mean the plastic can degrade, it means after some time, the plastic fragments into pieces and this can even be more dangerous to the environment. What those retailers did is they simply took their old stock and stamped those messages on them because they did not want to lose the stock,” said the official.
She explained that the months of grace have passed for all plastic dealers and anyone caught will face the consequences.
“On the 24 of October 2012, The Minister met with plastic package producing companies and asked them how long they could take to release their stock and they said 18 months. They signed agreements to that effect. This was the period of grace and compared to other countries it was even long. In Gabon producers were given six months and it worked,” said the official.
According to her, the joint arête by Ministry of Environment and Commerce the 18 months grace period was meant for sensitization after which the repressive phase would start.
“Normally, after the 18 months all plastics less than or equal to 60 microms are forbidden to circulate and as such we go round to seize any. For those above 60 microms, manufacturers have to get an environmental permit signed by the Minister,” the MINEPDED official told The Green Vision.
“We have been to all the major markets around the Southwest and seized all the plastic packages we saw. We will be visiting shops to seize more plastics. This decision has come to stay so Cameroonians should try to get used to it. By the way, 20 years ago there were no plastics and we still survived,” quipped the official.
Plastics seized are destroyed through piercing, weighed and given out free to recycling companies to produce more useful plastics like ‘Dchang’ shoes, tyres, containers of rubbing oil among others.
Quizzed about the lack of substitutes, the official said, “The Ministry of Environment was not the one producing non-biodegrable packaging, neither will it be the one to produce bio-degrables. Companies are responsible for that. We are only here to make sure the laws are implemented and our environment is protected. I admit that as for now there are no machines that can produce bio-degrables in Cameroon, but not all plastics have been banned. We have plastics more than 60 microms circulating like Sacks and Motors. Other forms of packaging include raffia bags, carton paper and plantain leaves.”
She lauded some vendors in Buea town market who are already adapting by using papers to tie goods and called on the others to follow.
About the issue of machines going redundant, the Environment official explained that machines which had hitherto produced plastic packaging of less than 60 microms can stay in business by producing thicker plastics that weigh more than 60 microms.
“We are encouraging thicker plastics because first people can wash and reuse which helps to reduce the nuisance of lighter plastics flying everywhere. Equally, such plastics can easily be collected and recycled as compared to the lighter ones.”
She admitted that producing thicker plastics will be more costly but said the companies will have to adapt with time. She equally enjoined members of the public to join the struggle by not accepting goods packaged in plastics.
“Our target is the producer no doubt, but this does not make the consumer free. It is a joint effort and we all have to put hands on deck to eradicate plastic packages,” said the official.
A few days after April 24, “new” plastics much similar to the previous ones began circulating in markets. They bore the inscription ‘Plastiques biodegradable’. However, it was not long before the Ministry of Environment rejected those new plastics some of which carried logos of OK Plast and PLASTICAM.
Contrary to what the manufacturers told plastic dealers, experts said the new plastics could not degrade after five years and that they were not very different from the previous ones.
“I was sitting in my shop attending to my customers at the Muea market when suddenly I saw about twelve men dressed in military attire. As I was trying to guess what was happening, they grabbed all the over seven packets of plastics I was using to serve my clients,” said a trader.
“We are not the ones manufacturing plastics. Why don’t they go and tell the companies in charge to stop? By the way, where are the substitutes? This government is sick!” added the trader.
She said she lost more than half of her clients that day as she did not have plastic wrappings to package beans or groundnuts.
“We were told these new plastics would serve the same purpose of packaging goods and are more environmentally friendly; that they can degrade after five years,” said the woman.
Another retailer at the Buea central market told The Green Vision that on Saturday, May 3, she saw some men in the market who said they were council police.
“Fortunately for me, I had been hinted by a friend that they were in the market to seize all plastics. I hid all my plastics and they passed my shop. I heard they seized plastics from some people. Now we do not even have plastics because all those who use to sell them have closed down,” the woman said.
The ban on plastic wrapping has thrown many out of jobs.
“I have no plastics to sell and that was my main job. I am now in the house; no job to do. I started selling the new plastics which our wholesaler told us were biodegradable, but officials have rejected them,” Eboulle Nelson told The Green Vision by phone.
Black Market Plastics
Another trader a black market in fake plastic wrappings has developed.
“We have some women who come as early as 6 am to sell us plastics. They sell them at cut-throat prices because they know the demand now is high. A packet of white wrappings, which we used to buy for 100 francs cfa, we now buy from these dealers at 250 francs cfa. The prices of other types like black and multi-coloured have increased sharply,” said the trader.
She said the Buea Council police told them to ask their customers to bring dishes to buy items.
“How is that possible? If someone has to buy rice, beans, garri, how many bowls will he or she carry to the market?” she quipped.
The Council police have equally been harassing other plastic users along the street. A woman in Sandpit whose only name we got as Yvonne said the Council police seized five loaves of bread she bought from a nearby bakery wrapped in plastic and hurled them on the ground.
“How does the ban concern my bread? Why did they not go and tell the people at the bakery not to package bread in plastic? I think they are targeting the wrong people. The police and the Ministry of Environment should stop the producers of plastic wrappings and provide substitutes.
They said biodegradable bags were going to be available after the ban, but up to now I have not seen even one. Are we now supposed to be carrying our goods in our hands?” wondered Yvonne.
In other towns, The Green Vision gathered that market women complained bitterly and even exchanged words angry with the authorities. A woman in Mutengene was allegedly dragged to a police station because she tried to fight with the authorities when they attempted seizing her plastic wrappings. She said until they provide substitutes, they cannot seize her plastics.
The ban on plastic wrappings has created unprecedented difficulties for many.
“I went to the Mutengene market to purchase small plastics that I use to package peanuts for 100 francs cfa, but to my greatest surprise, I did not see the plastics where I usually buy them. My supplier took me to the warehouse to give me some plastics that he was hiding from the public. I had to buy the plastics in excess because I was scared that if next I go to the market I would not see them. In addition, I find myself in a dilemma because I do not know if my clients will accept taking peanuts packaged in plastics that have been banned,” said a peanut seller.
A University of Buea student, who also sells peanuts, says she is facing difficulties.
“I depend on my peanut business to pay my fees and take care of myself. If substitutes are not provided for the kinds of small plastics I use to package my peanuts, then I will be in trouble,” she said.
Companies have also testified of having stopped the production of non-biodegradable bags.
The Manager in charge of Commerce for PLASTICAM Douala, Ms. Ayuk, in a phone interview, told The Green Vision that her company has stopped the production of all plastics less than 60 microms as instructed by the government.
Asked about what has become of the old stock, she said, “We produce plastics by order. We had delivered all the orders we had before the April 24 deadline. Since then, we have focused on the production of the environmentally-friendly plastics which weigh less than 60 microms.”