A new breed of legal support

Plastic bags regulations in Tanzania gain momentum

2019-05-31 14:24:21

By Paul Kibuuka @tzpaulkibuuka

Tanzania has issued the Environment Management (Prohibition of Plastic Carrier Bags) Regulations, 2019  ("Plastic Carrier Bags Regulations 2019") that impose an expansive regulatory ban, within the Mainland, on the import, export, manufacturing, sale, storage, supply, and use of plastic carrier bags regardless of their thickness.

Made under section 230(2)(f) of the Environment Management Act, Cap 191, the regulations which were published under Government Notice No. 394 of 2019 on May 17, 2019 will come into effect from next Saturday (June 1, 2019).

The Plastic Carrier Bags Regulations, 2019 also downright prohibit a person from selling or offering for sale beverages or other commodities wrapped in plastics unless the nature of such commodities require wrappings by plastics.  

In addition, the regulations require all suppliers of products contained in plastic bottles to set-up, operate or participate in a take-back system for collecting their respective waste plastic bottles for recycling. No additional price is to be charged for this service.

The Plastic Carrier Bags Regulations, 2019 outlaw the registration or issuance of a license or permit to any person intending to import, export, manufacture or sell plastic carrier bags after June 1, 2019.  

The definition of “plastic carrier bag” is wide: “a bag made of plastic film, with or without handles, or gussets and to which its layer is in any thickness”. Thus, this definition leads us to a broad range of such bags.

Environmental concerns associated with plastic carrier bag use, including the negative effects of the bags on human and animal health have impelled the Tanzanian government to this latest major regulatory effort.

Despite the innate, long-term advantages of the plastic carrier bags ban, industry voices point at the impact of the ban on the economy. The ban will wipe out or radically alter jobs; furthermore, billions of shillings in annual revenues will be lost.

To stave off job and revenue losses, the Tanzanian government could have followed the lead of Rwandan government and instituted tax breaks for entities that recycle plastic bags, while opening up a new market for the manufacture of alternative carrier bags.

In that connection, would it be an exaggeration to expect Finance Minister Dr Philip Mpango’s 2019/20 Budget Speech to be a positive sign for economic and financial incentives for the production and importation of alternative carrier bags?     

Besides tax breaks, the government could have increased levies and consequently the cost on plastic carrier bags so as to make them expensive to encourage re-utilisation. This measure could have been complemented by the requirement for retailers to partner with plastic recycling entities and establish collection points for plastic carrier bags that are kaput.

Proponents of the plastic carrier bags ban argue that the innate, long-term advantages of the ban will benefit the Tanzanian economy and save taxpayer shillings that would have been spent on the clean-up of plastic.

The Plastic Carrier Bags Regulations, 2019 contain hefty penalties; for example, manufacturing or importation of prohibited plastic bags and plastic wrappings can lead to fines of up to Sh1 billion, or imprisonment of up to two years, or both. Possession and usage can lead to fines of up to Sh200,000, or imprisonment of up to 7 days, or both.

However, certain exemptions from the ban are expressly provided for and these include plastic or plastic packaging for medical services, industrial products, construction industry, agricultural sector, food processing, or sanitary and waste management.

And speaking of exemptions from prohibition of plastic bags, the Mauritian Environment Protection (Banning of Plastic Bags) Regulations, 2015 exempt manufacturing for export. Perhaps, should Tanzania have replicated this exemption, instead of adopting the expansive regulatory prohibition?

To facilitate implementation, Tanzania’s Plastic Carrier Bags Regulations, 2019 prescribe a multi-pronged approach to compliance and enforcement involving various government organs, including the Police Force, the Immigration Department, and the Tanzania Revenue Authority. The hope is that no member of the public will be superfluously harassed.

While leeway is given to any person aggrieved by any decision under the Plastic Carrier Bags Regulations, 2019 to appeal to the minister responsible for Environment, it’s uncertain whether industry-backed lawsuits will challenge the regulations.

Paul Kibuuka is the managing partner of Isidora & Company Advocates. Email: Twitter: @tzpaulkibuuka This article was first published in The Citizen on Saturday, 25 May 2019.

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