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Africa has come a long way on the journey to creating a single-use plastic-free world with many victorious milestones to celebrate across the continent. We’ve been said to be leading the way in the fight against single-use plastic. But our steps are heavy as we move forward, with the world under lockdown and the many pressures of a pandemic on our shoulders. Every journey has interruptions, obstacles, and reflective pauses; COVID-19 certainly feels like a combination of all of these. So, while we reconfigure our compasses, let’s take stock of where we are. 

Out of 54 states, 34 have either passed a law banning plastics and implemented it or have passed a law with the intention of implementation. Of those, 16 have totally banned plastic bags or have done so partially without yet introducing regulations to enforce the bans. Compared to the rest of the world, the continent is seemingly doing a great job, but let’s look at the reality of plastic bans in Africa. 

1. Eritrea 

In 2005, the East African state became the first to adopt an outright ban on plastic bags.

2. Benin 

The West African country adopted a ban on the production, importation, marketing, possession and use of non-biodegradable plastic bags in November 2017 in an effort to end marine plastic pollution.

3. Tanzania 

Plastic sachets used for packing distilled and other alcoholic beverages are prohibited from being manufactured or imported to mainland Tanzania. Tourists are not allowed to enter the country with plastic carrier bags.

4. Uganda 

Despite the measures put in place to ban plastic bags in 2007, the government of Uganda has struggled to implement it because of lack of regulation.

5. Senegal

Senegal is the most recent country to tighten its efforts against single-use plastic. It announced its ban on single-use plastic water sachets and coffee cups in February 2020, to be implemented in April 2020. Senegal’s ban intersects with other issues including water security and the COVID-19 pandemic. It includes, but still makes an allowance for, the water sachets that many people rely on for access to clean water. This will change after the pandemic ends, but certainly raises some questions.

After the pandemic, what measures will the Senegalese government take to effectively implement the ban while still ensuring that people can access clean water? This may be a moment where the government takes the opportunity to innovate a solution that protects public and environmental health simultaneously. With a little imagination and political will, it’s definitely possible. 

6. Côte d’Ivoire

The ban on non-biodegradable plastic bags that was expected to come into effect in November 2013 was met with fierce opposition from the plastics industry. The law includes plastics used for bags of drinking water. In 2016, they also outlawed plastic sachets used for alcohol.

7. Madagascar 

Plastic bags less than 0.05 millimeters thick have been banned in Madagascar since 2015, and have forced local businesses to find alternative packaging solutions.

8. Nigeria

West Africa’s economic hub announced a ban on plastic bags in 2013, which came into effect in 2014. It includes both plastic shopping bags and plastic sachets of drinking water. Last year, it strengthened its legislation by including a fine of N500 000 or 3-year jail term for any store found giving plastic bags to customers.

9. Mali

A ban against non-biodegradable bags was announced in 2013.

10. Tunisia

The plastic bag ban in Tunisia is part of a broader effort at establishing greener policy. It came into effect in March 2017, and requires all supermarket chains to stop distributing the bags.

11. Malawi

Plastic bags were first banned in Malawi in 2015, but the country’s high court overturned the original ban the next year after 14 plastic manufacturers opposed the ban, saying it was “an infringement of business rights.” But last year, seven supreme court judges ruled that the original ban must be upheld after all. 

12. Mauritania

In 2013, Mauritania banned plastic bags. In the capital of Mauritania, an estimated 70 percent of cattle and sheep deaths are caused by plastic bag ingestion.

13. The Gambia 

Under the prohibition and ban of the use of plastic bags in The Gambia: a person who manufactures or imports, uses or sells plastic bags commits a criminal offence. 

14.  Kenya

Kenya leads the way with the strictest ban on single-use plastic in the world. And it’s clear how this title was earned: importing, manufacturing or selling single-use plastic bags could earn companies a fine of $40 000; using one, on the other hand, could see individuals slapped with a $500 fine. Despite the fact that plastic bags are still smuggled into Kenya, the ban has been considered successful by many. In June 2019, Kenya’s president announced a ban on the use of single-use plastics in protected areas which will take effect in June this year, but regulations have yet to be established. 

15. Rwanda

Rwanda is a shining star on the continent, instituting in 2008 a national ban on non-biodegradable plastic bags. The ban prohibited the manufacture, use, importation and sale of plastic carrier bags. Travelers into Rwanda face similar restrictions to those headed for Tanzania, and are not allowed to bring plastic carrier bags into the country. Rwanda also introduced ‘Umuganda’, a community cleanup held on the last Saturday of every month. It is one of the reasons Rwanda is renowned for its cleanliness, especially the capital city of Kigali. In October 2019, Rwanda became the first country in Africa to issue a complete ban on all single-use plastics.

But there is still work to be done. Rwanda, despite their successes, shares Kenya’s smuggling problem, and it seems that implementation is a shared problem across the continent, with enough local nuance to make anybody scratch their heads. 

16. Mauritius 

The law was promulgated in August 2015, and strictly prohibits import, manufacturing, sale or supply of plastic bags. However, in 2016, the Mauritian government exempted a list of plastic bags from the ban. Which means that plastic bans are not entirely banned in this country.

17. Democratic Republic of the Congo

Plastic pollution in the DRC has been linked to flood-related deaths in the past. The cause? Rivers and sewage systems blocked by plastic rubbish – a completely avoidable consequence. The government banned the manufacture and sale of plastic bags and bottles, but implementation remains a challenge.

18. Congo-Brazzaville

Plastic bags and sachets for the sale of food, water and any other drink are prohibited, along with oxo-biodegradable plastic bags, sachets and films.

19. Seychelles 

Only the manufacturing, importation, distribution of plastic bags, which do not fall into the list of exempted plastic, is permitted. This ban focuses mainly on thin plastics.

20. Burkina Faso

The law prohibits the production, import, marketing and distribution of packaging and non-biodegradable plastic bags in Burkina Faso.

21. Botswana

In 2007, Botswana established a minimum thickness for bags and mandated that retailers apply a minimum levy to thicker bags, which would be used to support government environmental projects. Many retailers charged more than the minimum tax, and prices fluctuated over time. A study of four retail chains 18 months after implementation of the charge showed that bag use fell by half – imagine what it would be like with a total ban!

22. Zambia 

In 2018, the Zambian government banned the use of packaging materials such as plastic bags and their resultant waste. However, here too, there are no existing regulations on the implementation of this ban. 

23. South Africa

The national elections in 2019 provided Greenpeace Africa with an opportunity to engage politicians on the issue of plastic pollution. Our volunteers rallied together to create a successful petition that was delivered to representatives of each major political party in the country, calling for the inclusion of a ban on single-use plastics in their election manifestos. 

South Africans are familiar with the levy on plastic bags, and it is an easy enough measure for the government to implement – which it has since the levy was introduced in 2004, along with a ban on thin plastic bags. However, the April floods in Durban last year forced us to question the efficacy of this levy. When the Durban harbour seemed to have more plastic than water after the floods, who does it comfort to know that we pay 25 cents for a bag when we buy groceries? 

24. Gabon 

Prohibition of the import and marketing of non-recyclable plastic bags – which doesn’t help much considering that only 9% of all plastic ever gets recycled.

25. Ethiopia

Ethiopia is yet another country looking for eco-friendly status with their plastic ban. In 2008, it passed a law only banning thin plastic bags.

26. Cameroon

Cameroon’s government placed a ban on non-biodegradable plastics in 2014; the ban covers the importation, production and sale of single-use plastic items, and followed a ministerial calculation that Cameroon dumped more than six million tonnes of plastic waste annually. Cameroon has struggled to implement the ban, facing numerous obstacles in terms of plastic waste management systems and infrastructure. Despite this, the Cameroonian government has reiterated its willingness to work with key players to come up with innovative solutions.

27. Djibouti 

Importation and marketing of non-biodegradable plastic bags and packaging, not manufactured in the country, have been strictly prohibited since 2016.

28. Morocco 

Moroccan consumption of the raw material used in manufacturing plastic bags dropped by 50 percent since its plastic bag ban came into effect in 2015. Last year, the government introduced amendments to the law, allowing for the seizure of plastic used to legally make bags.

29. Niger 

Niger has only gone as far as to ban the storage of low-density plastic bags and flexible packaging. It joins the list of countries whose governments are fronting as warriors in the fight against plastic pollution.

30. Togo

Togo has banned the manufacturing, importation, distribution and marketing of non-biodegradable bags and packaging.

31. Zimbabwe 

Apart from plastic bags used for bread, the manufacture for use, commercial distribution or importation of plastic packaging with a wall thickness less than 30 micrometers is prohibited, biodegradable or not. Also, no ink shall be used for printing on plastic and plastic bottles unless the ink and the printing comply with compulsory specifications. 

32. Cabo Verde 

The island nation has prohibited the production, import into the market, and use of conventional plastic bags for packaging.

33. Burundi 

Burundi criminalised the use and possession of plastic bags last year, and has set a 2020 target to enforce a total ban on single-use plastics. 

34. Guinea-Bissau

In 2013, the government announced a ban on plastic bags that came into effect in 2014.

External References – Deutsche Welle, The Independent, All Africa, Earth Policy Institute, UN Environment