By Fatou Dahaba
The importation and use of plastic bags in The Gambia was officially banned by the government of The Gambia on 1st July, 2015 through a press release issued in the month of April 2015 which brought the importation and use of it to a halt for a period of about twenty-one months. The government also announced a policy of “No Compromise on Environmental Cleanliness.”
The indiscriminate use of plastic bags in The Gambia according to the press release ‘poses a serious existentialist threat to the fragile ecosystem of the country and presents an unwarranted environmental eyesore. Plastic bags are also responsible for suffocation deaths of sea and land animals, as well as inhibiting soil nutrients.’
The release further indicate that plastic bags are made of various toxic chemicals that are sources of various diseases as well as disorders in humans. In recognition of thèse grave dangers, the government of The Gambia will impose the ban on the importation and sale of these items and seeks the strict cooperation of all importers, sellers and users.
Though, importation and uses of plastic bags later resurfaced in the market around March 2017 with full force that even users will tell you that it is banned but not totally eradicated from market.
Despite the ban, the enforcement team continuous strive to eradicate use of it, users continue to neglect the campaign and still challenging the enforcement team on why plastic bags should ban in the country.
However, Omar Sanneh Head of Research and Development Unit at Department of Birds and Wildlife disclosed dangers plastic bags cause in the environment. Once a plastic is burn the smoke contains dangerous chemicals that goes into the atmosphere and mixed with air which also contain oxygen, nitrogen and other gases.
He continued that this changes in the air can later affects the sun light from reaching the earth which absorb chemicals called greenhouse gases. These gases that retaliate the heat from direct rise can result to global warming that will increase the average temperature of the earth surface and lead to climate change.
‘I think if Gambians are observance in the last two years one could conclude that climate change is real because there has been a drop on rainfall compared to four years ago. The authorities are not enforcing the law that’s why people are not taking it seriously.’
Studies have revealed that an estimated 300 million plastic bags end up in the Atlantic Ocean alone. The environmental balance of local and international waterways is being thrown off by the rate of plastic bags finding their way into the mouths and intestinal tracts of sea mammals. Where marine animals survive the swallowing of these bags, they are unable to continue with normal digestion and thus eventually die a slow and painful death from toxicity or intestinal blockage.
Abdou Karim Darboe Assistance Communication Officer at the National Environnent Agency said plastics are banned due to its health and environmental implication. He outlined some of the plans his institution is doing to effect the ban.
This include regular inspections into markets and see how people with bulk amount of it can stop selling plastics. Another aspect of enforcement is to take people before a court of law or fined with some amount of accounting to the penalties that are officially attached to the people who are found in position of plastics.
‘People don’t understand that all plastics have supplements and those supplements will be better for all of us but they believe that plastics are easy to use. Some attached it to their children’s education. We are also looking at sensitization at the level of the grassroots, school levels, markets, lumos to make sure people understand that this are harmful to our environment.’
Pa Modou Touray a petty trader at coastal road market opined that government should come up with mechanism like environment friendly containers that will replace plastic ban and but mere laws that cannot be enforce.
‘I know plastics are not good for the environment, but I have no other means than to use it because package is a problem in this country. Majority depend on plastic bags for their means of survival, so what will happen if you condemn their source of income without any helping hand. Let them come with better solution and I will stop using it.’
Plastic bags are non-biodegradable and do not decay for hundreds of years and therefore pose a direct threat to the environment. Even when disposed of, they end up in the trash, which then ends up in the landfill or is burnt. Burning them emits toxic gases that harm the atmosphere and increase the level of volatile organic compounds in the air.