Cameroon has finally decided to phase out non-biodegradable plastic bags.
Government decided to ban non-biodegradable plastic bags of less than 60 microns last year on the grounds they clog waterways, spoil the landscape, and end up in landfills which take a thousand years to break down and degrade into particles which pollute the soil and water. Before the April 24, deadline, environmental inspectors and assessors from the Ministry Environment, Protection of Nature and Sustainable Development went about trying to raise awareness among various manufacturers and importers of this kind of packaging and also their counterparts for biodegradables. “As we went through the region during the sensitization campaign, we did create commissions that will assist in ensuring that the text is operational at the regional as well as at the divisional level. They will go out to ensure that no plastics exist either in your warehouse or being produced,” Director of Standards and Control at the Ministry of Environment, Protection of Nature Enow Peter Ayuk told state radio. Government has announced plans to start producing other types of bio-degradable food packaging materials in partnership with private companies, but until that happens, business operators will have to use alternative packaging materials. “Who says there are no alternatives? You get to our bakeries today; you will find out that most of them have fully adjusted to using paper which was not the case couple of months back. But also remember that quite a lot of our products are not being processed; that means most of them are wet, and traditionally, things like baskets, raffia bags will be used. And for the dry items, the paper is very much available,” Ayuk said. The UN Environment Program estimates that up to five trillion plastic bags are manufactured worldwide annually. Of that number, only one percent is recycled. Official figures confirm that plastic makes up 10% of the six million tonnes of waste produced daily in Cameroon. Government is firm on ensuring that all and sundry respect the ban. A decision announced in early August last year by the Ministry of the Environment states that beyond the April 24, 2014 deadline, violators will risk heavy fines and prison sentence. “If they (non-biodegradable plastic bags) are found in a shop, we are going to seize and destroy them. We are also going to apply the text. Article 81 stipulates that if you are found with those sought of products you will have to pay FCFA 10 to 50 million as well as imprisonment of two to five years,” Mr Ayuk warned.