Statutory Instrument on Extended Producer Responsibility – Another Scarecrow?

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Three weeks after the Zambian government banned plastic packaging materials in the country, not a slight change in their distribution and dumping can be seen. Supermarkets and shops are still giving them out freely to their customers. Street vendors are also still buying from wholesalers and retailing them. Against that backdrop, the question is: are Zambians in for another blank Statutory Instrument (SI)?

Plastic bags were banned following issuance of SI No. 65 of 2018 on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) – although EPR is not necessarily about banning but regulating. Announcing the ban, Ministry of Water Development, Sanitation and Environmental Protection Permanent Secretary Ed Chomba said the action was in accordance with section 58 of the Environmental Management Act No 12 of 2011. The objective of the ban is to curb non-biodegradable pollution. In the past, similar laws have been passed on various issues but with short-lived impact, if any.

For example, in 2017 when Cholera broke out in the capital city, Lusaka, the government passed SI No. 79 banning street vending in undesignated areas. The nation saw the demolition of illegal stalls that clogged streets in what appeared to be the first step towards clean cities. Sadly, the vendors are back with their makeshift stalls, only this time they are constructing them with metal instead of wood.

Not only that.  A few years before, there was SI No. 150 of 2011 banning sale of used underwear. The Zambia Bureau of Standards emerged promising to put a stop to importation of garments that they felt could carry and easily transmit infectious diseases. To date, sale of such garments still flourishes.

At one time, smoking in public was criminalized under SI No. 29 of 2008. One wonders whether that law has been revoked or not. People still smoke anywhere freely; what is more, there are no designated places for smoking.

Speaking on the cellphone (mobile phone) while driving was also at one time outlawed, but, apparently, it has now remained only on paper. Drivers behind the wheel make and answer calls without worrying whether there is a law enforcement officer nearby or not. And with the ever-increasing need for communication and availability of devices for the purpose, that law, if still in force, is one of the most carelessly broken.

Observing from any angle, the above-mentioned pieces of legislature have been nothing but scarecrows that no longer terrify offenders. And if older SIs came devoid of the severity that they were intended to have, what convinces a reasonable Zambian that banning plastic bags now will bring about a cleaner environment?

Actually, the intention of controlling use and disposal of plastic packaging materials is good. Plastics are behind the rampant drainage problems in the country and diminishing of marine life globally. But, instead of removing plastics bags from the country through unworkable SIs, the authorities would do well to go by what the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA) Director General John Msimuko suggested.

The ZEMA boss said the gradual ban can be achieved through enacting the EPR as one way of managing packaging materials such as plastics which eventually end up as waste. Under this regulation the manufacturers of the material and other stake holders take responsibility for the full environmental impact of the product.

In other words, any company that manufactures plastic bags or distributes them even takes care of their disposal beyond the end user. It works well if stakeholders are charged with picking up the quantities proportional to what they dispense, irrespective of the brand.

If well implemented, maybe the Zambians will see a Statutory Instrument that functions effectively. On the other hand, if the government wants to cling to banning the manufacture of the commodity, they will also have to provide alternative jobs for manufacturers and peddlers who survive by selling plastic carrier bags.

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