The drafting of regulations through which a levy on plastic carry bags would become a reality in Namibia is at an advanced stage, and these regulations could be implemented towards the end of 2017. This was announced by Mr. Teofilus Nghitila, Environmental Commissioner in the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, at the ninth After-Work-Talk of the Environmental Economics Network of Namibia, which was staged at the Namibian Scientific Society in Windhoek on 3 August 2017. He was part of seven panellists who each highlighted the topic, The introduction of a plastic bag levy – an option for Namibia? All panellists were in favour of a plastic bag levy, with minor reservations in some cases.
Mr. Nghitila emphasized that some key questions around plastic bags need to be discussed with stakeholders. These would include the banning of all ‘problem’ plastics entering Namibia that contain Calcium Carbonate (CaCO3), assessing of plastics that are produced locally, the regulation thereof and the reinvestment of the levy revenue into environmental activities. He said locally manufactured plastics can be controlled while most of these are already biodegradable. According to Mr. Nghitila levies on plastics would not be the only solution in curbing pollution. It, however, can be used to change consumer behavior. “If we can change the mind set of consumers, they could start using alternatives.”
Mr. Benedict Libanda, Chief Executive Officer of the Environmental Investment Fund (EIF), said the EIF under the auspices of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism is geared towards the collection of levies. He pointed out that the EIF would operate according to its three principles of Accountability (what impact a levy will have), Transparency (that the collection process is transparent), and Earmarking (levy revenue should be used for a specific environmental purpose and not mixed with other levies).
He said they believe in ring fencing revenue generation so that it could be ploughed back into relevant environmental conservation activities. He said environmental levies would serve the purpose of curbing pollution the best. A total ban on plastic bags would have a huge economic impact on the local manufacturing industry as many jobs could be lost.
Mr. Libanda also noted that the EIF has been consulting widely about levies during the past two to three years and conducted studies on how to deal with the environmental challenges caused by the dumping of batteries, computers and lubricant oils. It has developed regulations with the Ministry of Justice and which would now need to get political approval. The EIF has developed investment centres from which SMEs would be helped to utilise and process by-products from the above mentioned dumped items.
The Managing Director of Plastic Packaging, Mr Jaco Venter said his company would have limited objections to a levy on plastic carriers bags. They would support the idea that revenue from levies should directly support environmental activities. He noted that the plastic carrier bag should not be singled out as the only cause of plastic pollution. He referred to plastic bottles in which mineral water is sold, of which 60 percent is being imported from South Africa. He asked what do consumers do with the plastic their meat, fish, vegetables, fruit or frozen productions are packaged in. “If we wipe out carrier bags, we still have an 85 to 90 percent problem.” Namibia has an annual usage of around 150 to 200 carrier bags per person per year, compared to 80 bags per person per year in Sweden and France.
According to Mr. Venter, Namibia should consider some best practices such as standardizing its plastic requirements by finding a balance between the thickness and re-usability of plastic bags. Thinner bags pose less of a problem in terms of the carbon footprint, fossil fuels and energy. In addition, 95 percent of carries bags imported are not recyclable while the widespread use of CaCO3, in the manufacturing should be stopped. Unnecessary lamination and excessive printing onto plastics should be avoided. He said recycling should be foremost part in the designing and manufacturing of plastics bags. Consideration of the carbon footprint of articles is necessary. Multi-use bags need to be used 170 times to break even with plastic bags in terms of its carbon footprint and energy requirements. According to him paper uses 150 percent the volume of non-renewable resources to manufacture a similar batch to plastics.
He said the best practices regarding landfill should be that only organic material should be entered. Chemicals used in the manufacturing of canvass or paper bags leech and contaminates underground water resources. Incineration plants could generate energy from combustible waste. The Ohorongo Cement factory north of Otavi uses this technology to produce cement from the generated energy. Mr Venter said the second product life cycle of plastics should be utilised by collecting, sorting, transporting and recycling plastic. Excess recyclable material should be exported. “Ensure that all waste is managed with the aim of recycling first, with the lowest possible volume going to landfills.” The recycling of plastics could create more jobs, including the recycling of cans and cardboard. His company, for instance, recycles plastic bags into plastic piping and refuse bags.
Mr. Erwin Stegmann, Group Manager for Sustainability and Utilities Support with Ohlthaver and List Group, said he was heartened by the current developments and supports the notion that levies on plastic carrier bags should exclusively be used for environmental activities. The purpose of retailers selling plastic carrier bags should not be to generate profits for them but to contribute to the environment. “The polluter-pay-principle should prevail according to which the consumer pays for the bags and of which the levy goes back to the environment.”
Mr. Festus Nghifenwa, Director of Economic Policy Advisory Services with the Ministry of Finance, said a different approach and practices should be adopted when dealing with the conservation of the environment. Levies should not be the primary option to change human behaviour. He believes awareness about plastic pollution and counter measures should be raised through extensive campaigns. Alternatives to plastics should also be considered.
Dr Chris Brown, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Namibian Chamber of Environment, said pollution ‘looks bad for Tourism, which is the second largest contributor to the GDP.” Plastic pollution defaces nature and thus negatively affects its attractiveness for tourists. Furthermore, animals and livestock die when they ingest plastic. It also infest the oceans. About 95 percent of all seabirds have plastics in their stomachs, so do turtles and other sea creatures. Fish that ingest plastics in the size of diminutive nanoparticles, gets consumed by humans, which could be the cause of strokes, heart attacks and tumours. Dr. Brown said the NCE would support a ban of CaCO3 in the manufacturing of plastic packaging. He proposed that a 20 percent deposit be levied on plastic water bottles and the revenue be used to clean up the environment from these bottles. They would also be in favour of the proposed levies on carrier bags and that the revenue be channelled back to the environment such as towards SMEs in rural areas where people can sew and sell carrier bags for a nominal fee as their income.
It was concluded that in order to successfully implement plastic levies, extensive work should be done to raise awareness, increase recycling points and ensuring that SMEs in rural areas benefit from the funds collected.