News / Africa

Cameroon Plastics Ban Faces Challenges

Mounds of discarded plastic shopping bags form barrages along the once free-flowing River Mfoundi near Yaounda's open-air markets. (Courtesy Eugene Nforngwa)
Mounds of discarded plastic shopping bags form barrages along the once free-flowing River Mfoundi near Yaounda's open-air markets. (Courtesy Eugene Nforngwa)
Eugene Nforngwa
Small, transparent, widely available and cheap. Plastics bags are the major wrappings used in small stores and big supermarkets in Cameroon. In many ways, they have come to be part of the modern shopping experience across country.
 
Now, the government says they pose a danger to nature and has banned them. The law prohibits their manufacture, import or use. But as the came and went, there is no sense that plastic shopping bags will go away anytime soon. 
 
In the streets of the capital Yaounde, plastics bags are as present as always. Shopkeepers remove them by instinct. Shoppers demand them forcefully. The bags are being used to hold anything: cubes of sugar, cigarettes, cookies, flour, grain, clothing and even cooking oil. Shoppers can have as many as they want because they don’t have to pay for them.
 
Plastic bags still proliferate in Yaounde
 
To get a sense of how this affects the environment, I drive to a bridge on River Mfoundi, near one of the city’s open-air markets.
 
Over the years this meandering waterway has shrunk to a seasonal stream, a victim of years of residential encroachment. Today, its banks have been squeezed narrow by thousands of shacks. But it is the piles of plastic bags and bottles that have chocked its duct. 
 
The water is stagnant, dark and chuffs a pungent smell. It used to flourish with fish and crabs; but not anymore. Any life it harbored has been replaced by floating plastics and all sorts of rubbish. It used to snake nicely through the city. It’s now a deathtrap for unattended fowls, dogs and pigs.
 
Authorities say it’s examples like this that caused them to ban plastic shopping bags. Over the last months, the minister of environment, nature protection and sustainable development has been touring the country to explain the decision. Unlike other wrappings like paper, plastics can stay in nature for up to a thousand years – blocking waterways, destroying habitats and leaving soils infertile. The ban became operational on April 24.
 
Unfortunately, not many people are getting the message.
 
Deal with Cameroon’s bigger problems
 
Critics of the move say the government has more pressing environmental concerns than plastic bags. Over-logging has reduced the country’s forest cover by nearly a fifth. Illegal poaching is fueling trans-border crime. And the desert is eating up swaths of arable land in the north of the country.
 
They’ve also said the ban will be difficult to enforce. Officials plan to keep an eye on producers and importers to ensure that they comply.
 
But Cameroon’s borders are loose and large volumes of illegal goods are smuggled into the country every day. Another snag in the plan is the fact that law enforcement officers are not trained to distinguish degradable from non-degradable plastics.
 
Even then, the fiercest resistance is coming from small shop owners and hawkers who would be most affected by the ban. They have argued that most of the things they sell can only be held in plastic. They say paper and leaves won’t make a good alternative.
 
The shopkeeper’s dilemma
 
Michael Mbih, a grocery shop owner who has been using plastic bags for the past eight years, thinks the whole thing is senseless. Even though the ban came with a one-year period of grace, he thinks they were not given enough time to make the transition.
 
“People are used to using nylon papers and you cannot just ask them to stop overnight,” says Mbih. “When people come here, they expect me to wrap whatever they buy. Paper is very expensive and no one will be willing to pay extra for wrapping.”
 
The government says not all plastic bags will be affected. The ban targets small, thin and cheap varieties that are widely available and in very high demand.
 
Thicker and biodegradable alternatives will continue to circulate side by side with other options like fiber-based shopping bags, paper and even leaves. It says re-using shopping bags is both economical and friendly to the environment.
 
Environmentalist Augustine Njamnshi says the government must go further to make the ban work. He says the best way to make plastic bags go away is to reduce demand and stimulate the market for alternatives.
 
Create an industry of alternatives
 
“The government should not only make statements. They should make sure that is enforced,” says the environmental activist. “There are alternatives. We will create employment for young people to use plantain barks to [weave] bags. It can be done. It is being done.
 
“The government can set up small industries where women groups can produce shopping bags. We can take advantage of this and create employment for people. The only way to kill the use of plastic bags is killing the demand …”
 
But consumer behavior experts say it takes more than providing alternatives to convince the public to abandon old habits for new ones. It seems that when ban becomes enforceable later this month, plastics bags will stick around a little longer.

You May Like

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs