Why we must revitalize industries to supply different packaging bags

09Sep 2017
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
Why we must revitalize industries to supply different packaging bags

AFTER Kenya announced a ban on the use of plastic packaging materials in supermarkets, shops and other commercial activities, it looks like it is a matter of time before Tanzania makes the same move,

As we have many criss-crossing activities where the use of different facets of regulations on packaging can obstruct movement of people.

Under the protocol of the East African Customs Union goods can easily move across borders, whether accompanied or unaccompanied, and rules about packaging of goods transacted or carried by individuals matter. That is why we have to think about harmonization; aren’t we also sensitive to plastics use?

Even in Kenya there are cries that preparations were not sufficient as to what other materials will be used in the absence of plastics, and the usual alternative is paper wrapping as it is biodegradable.

In that case there is a challenge here for plastics industries in the country of those expecting to offload packaging materials here from outside – as in the case of Kenya – start shifting to the use of various kinds of paper for wrapping. It will not be new but requires some energetic pushing to go faster than usual adaptation is expected to deliver, so long as plastics are tolerated.

There was a time when plastics weren’t so much in the vogue and paper was being used but its environmental conditions were not consumer friendly, as retailers in many cases were just recycling multilayered cement bags to create innumerable packaging bags from the paper.

Traces of cement were easily noticeable though many such bags were free of contamination, a situation that needs to be corrected. If out to vacuum cleaning after use, cement bags could be applicable for larger wrapping needs, with small objects or original object wrapping on fresh paper bag.

Discussions have also at times centred on the use of woven baskets as standard usage shops, which may be sufficient or helpful for those walking a short distance from home to shop, not those who stop by the roadside to conduct shopping while coming from work, or in town for other business.

It is alternative which also puts many people to excitement as it means baskets will be sold all over the place, which is fine but not the whole issue. Usable packaging in shops that doesn’t have to be carried all around is what is needed, something as convenient as plastic bags.

That is why the possibility of materials shift to paper and supplying packaging material in the same way is most appropriate. There are also other handy materials requiring some innovation, for instance using thin manila threads for compressible baskets to be carried in bags, etc. Shops can use them like the larger plastic wraps.

Where one thinks of manila it is also possible to use sisal, if perhaps needing some treatment. The point however is that incentives need to start being extended to this aspect of supply of packaging materials, like phased out replacements of plastic bag use as part of trading needs in the EAC zone as a whole, basically in order to move with the changes in Kenya and also help us finish up with the long standing environmental contention on the use of plastic bags, clogging supply lines in some areas, or endangering domestic animals like cattle in various ways.

 Some of its use for wrapping food when it is hot was also being contested by health experts, but in the final analysis the issue here is harmonizing trade by uniform packaging rules.

The plastics ban in Kenya comes at a time that some sort of policy consensus in Tanzania had apparently been reached on the matter, that enforcing the long awaited or dreaded ban on the use of plastic packaging materials would harm local industries.

That is what President John Magufuli said in a speech when opening the Kilimanjaro cement factory in Tanga nearly two months ago, at a time when the Kenyan ban was reaching its maturity, or in the middle of the gestation period to maturity.

On account of relatively eased travel between the EAC member countries, the ban becomes relevant for Tanzanians and other EAC nationals wishing to travel to Kenya, or whose goods must be placed in small packing materials for freight across the border, amidst the ban.

At the same time there is something close to common policies linking the five partner states, where common usages in trade either need to be arrived at by consensus, or if it is a positive policy shift in one country, other partner states need to take a cue from it to prepare the right conditions for harmonization.

That is why supply side approaches are better so that individuals wishing to travel can get replacement packaging material, or those who actually ferry goods, as at the moment they would first have to obtain such materials from across the border so as to pack their goods for freight to the other side, for whatever commercial needs. It is commercial space that could be filled by local initiative, and with the right incentives, the shift could extend here.

As a matter of fact, what is perhaps the most important aspect in the way the Kenyan ban may affect Tanzania is to create an impression that “it can be done, if you play your part’ though fears still abound as to how rapidly Kenya adapts to the situation.

At the start there were reports of factories closing down, apparently not having made any realistic preparations about ‘switching’ to something else, like paper packaging materials.

It is unclear if the machines would also have to be adapted to new products or it is a matter of getting technicians familiar with how to proceed making paper packages as different from plastic bags, and adjust the costing and pricing as well.

That is why Tanzania needs to include the need to replace plastic bag wrappings in bringing the newly reactivated industries to work so that some of them are put to this kind of use as it would have a fairly ready market, despite the need to sell its products at particularly law prices.

That is what needs to be done, to change the packaging material and avoid affecting prices significantly.