Cleaning up Zimbabwe with a Styrofoam ban

Zimbabwe’s streets, rivers, drains and lakes are awash with discarded, non-recyclable Styrofoam food containers. A problem worsened by the failure of authorities to routinely collect garbage, Zimbabweans are often left with little choice but to dump the material where they see fit.

This environmental devastation is poised to change next month when Zimbabwe’s Environment Management Agency (EMA) bans food containers made from Styrofoam, or kaylite as it is more widely known across the country.

“That is a starting point to fight litter in our country,” EMA spokesman Steady Kangata told DW. “Come October 17, we are not going back.”

The move was proposed in July, after the University of Zimbabwe in the capital Harare released findings outlining the dangers of kaylite. The ultra light-weight material is cheap but the environmental cost is great, it concluded.

Made from petroleum-based polystyrene beads, kaylite contains 57 toxic chemicals that become active when incinerated, contributing to air pollution and “ozone layer disruption,” says the EMA. The material doesn’t biodegrade, but breaks down into smaller pieces that enter waterways. Chemicals in kaylite food containers can also leach into food and water, according to the University of Zimbabwe’s study.

Major fines

Environment Africa, a non-profit organization that calls for African solutions for the most pressing environment and development challenges, welcomed the policy.

“The menace of kaylite on the environment is shocking, so banning it is the way to go,” said Sandra Gobvu, Environment Africa spokeswoman.

The NGO says it’s encouraging businesses to be innovative and to start thinking about alternative environmentally-friendly packaging, such as paper or cardboard containers. But getting used to them will be a process.

“What I do not like about paper containers is that they do not keep the food warm for a long time. I still prefer kaylites,” said Linda Kachiti, who is a frequent customer of one of the busiest food outlets in Harare’s central business district.

But she, like everyone else across the country, will have to get used to the new regulations because once they officially take effect, the EMA says those found to be in breach could face fines of between $30 to $5,000 (25 and 4200 euros). The law targets importers, manufacturers, sellers and businesses that use kaylite containers to package food. 

Ketiwe Nyarunga, who runs a small food outlet in downtown Harare says he was about to run out of stocks of kaylite packaging when the pending switch was made. “We then made a decision to start preparing for the October deadline.” Though now ready for the big day, he says “it comes at a cost.”

Depending on whether you talk to the environmental agency or to business groups, immediate price hikes will fall somewhere between one and 10 percent. But the EMA is also advising vendors to encourage customers to sit in to eat, thereby avoiding packaging and any additional expense. It is all part of a wider campaign to fight litter.

Mixed reviews

The apparent speed at which the ban is being implemented also met with negative reactions. The EMA had initially ordered an immediate prohibition on kaylite, but following an outcry in the food and packaging sectors, agreed to grant a three-month reprieve to allow businesses to switch to more eco-friendly containers.

“The 90-day period is far better than the knee-jerk reaction we received from the government,” Denford Mutashu, president of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers told DW, adding that he would like to see it extended.

That though, seems highly unlikely. Not least, because those 90 days are by no means the full story. The EMA first introduced — but didn’t enforce — the legislation in 2012.

“We wanted to give companies time to find alternatives,” Kangata said. “We are very alive to the performance of the economy; so we did not want to rush to enforcing the law, but we expected them to be prepared for its enforcement.”

Should go further

Zimbabwe isn’t the first African country to take bold steps toward getting rid of plastic waste. In August, a ban on plastic carrier bags in Kenya came into force after years of delays. Anyone manufacturing or using plastic bags faces up to four years in jail.

Christopher Magadza, an environment studies professor at the University of Zimbabwe says his country should follow suit and extend its ban beyond kaylite containers.

“If you get to Rwanda airport, they will kindly ask for your plastic containers of your duty free drinks or stuff and give you a recyclable container,” Magadza told DW, explaining that the country therefore has greater control over waste.

“There is no biodegradable plastic,” said Magadza. “So when you think of plastics, think of polluted water or air. Dams, seas and oceans are full of plastics that contaminate aquatic animals and we eat some of them.”

Advertisting

Eastern Cape MEC orders graft investigation after two workers killed...

The killings of two council workers at the Amathole district municipality appear to be linked to tender fraud and corruption

Strike-off case pulls in judge

Judge Mushtak Parker is implicated in an application to strike off his former partners. He is also involved in the fight between the Western Cape high court’s judge president and his deputy

One strike and you’re out – registrar tells unions

A municipal workers’ union is the first to be sanctioned for not following the new rule when deciding whether to go on strike
Advertising

Press Releases

Dr Mathew Moyo’s journey to academic victory

The NWU's chief director for library and information services was appointed as a board member of the National Council for Library and Information Services.

UKZN pays tribute to Joseph Shabalala, Doctor of Music (honoris causa)

The university joins the global community in mourning the passing of legendary musician and founding member of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Dr Bhekizizwe Joseph Shabalala.

South Africa to be almost R 14-billion wealthier when SAB Zenzele BB-BBEE scheme winds down in April 2020

It’s the biggest BB-BEE FMCG payout in South Africa’s history, with a new scheme to be launched

UKZN vice-chancellor calls for perspective and creative engagement on the way forward

In addition to overcoming the deadlock between UKZN and students, a way must be found to reconcile the university's financial obligations and students' long-term needs.

Survey shows South Africans’ approval of president but not of political parties

According to the survey, 62% of South Africans think Cyril Ramaphosa is doing his job well, while 39% say no political party represents their views.

Introducing the Samsung Galaxy S20: Change the way you experience the world

The Samsung Galaxy S20 series features unprecedented AI camera technologies built for the future of communications

Andrew Makenete joins Africa Agri Tech as an event ambassador

Makenete has a wealth of experience in the agricultural sector

Is your company prepared for the coronavirus?

Companies should consider the direct and indirect impacts of the pandemic when evaluating whether they are prepared for the coronavirus, says ContinuitySA.