Buckling under

South Africa waters down proposed ban on plastic

Published: Sunday 30 June 2002

the South African government seems to be in reverse gear in context of their environmental policies. While countries the world over are increasingly prohibiting the use of thin plastics, South Africa has modified its proposed ban on polythene bags by reducing their thickness from 80 microns to 30 microns. Reducing the thickness of the bag makes it unviable for recycling. It is not collected by rag pickers and pollutes the environment.

This change in the regulation was was announced by M V Moosa, South African minister for environmental affairs and tourism, recently. In another relaxation, the date of the implementation of the ban has also been extended from January 2003 to May 2003.

The ban which proposed to curb the indiscriminate dumping of plastic bags in the country was announced in 2001. It prohibited the manufacture, trade and commercial distribution of plastic bags with less than 80 microns thickness.

It is being alleged that the plastic industry is behind the recent dilution of policy. Industry barons had been campaigning against the ban, claiming that it would leave many unemployed. Wolfgang Raffalsky, president of Plastics Federation of South Africa, stated that the ban would result in a loss of over 3,500 jobs and closure of more than 50 firms.

Environmentalists, though, refuse to buy such arguments. "It just proves that a strong corporate lobby can have its way in several important matters," says Bobby Peek, a member of groundWork, a non-profit environmental justice service and developmental organisation based in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. In India too, the greens are upset. "The recent move will set a bad precedent for other countries. It just goes to show how irresponsible the plastic industry is towards the environment," says Bharati Chaturvedi, director of Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group, a non-governmental organisation working with rag pickers.

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