Africa wages war on scourge of plastic bags


And we think we have a plastic bag problem. According to Andrew Cawthorne of Reuters, they've become as much a symbol of Africa's landscape as the stereotypical lions and plains. Discarded plastic bags -- in the billions -- flutter from thorn-bushes across the continent, and clog up cities from Cape Town to Casablanca.

"They're an eyesore across Africa, but there are damaging health and environment ... too," said the U.N. Environment Programme's (UNEP) Africa industry officer Desta Mebratu.

Produced -- and then strewn -- en masse in most countries, the flimsy bags block drains and sewage systems and can kill livestock who nibble and digest them. They spread malaria by holding mini-pools of warm water for mosquitoes to breed in. They choke soil and plants, and leak color additives into food.
"The plastic problem is now on the agenda of almost every African country," Mebratu, an Ethiopian, said at his office in a U.N. compound in Nairobi. "The major focus is to promote rational use and disposal of plastic bags."

Rwanda and Eritrea have already banned the bags outright, the United Nations says. "Go to the airport in Kigali and if you have a plastic bag, they will confiscate it," Mebratu said.

In Kenya, some say they just need more garbage containers. "That is what has removed plastic and other litter from Nairobi city centre where today bins stand at strategic places and people no longer toss refuse carelessly," says one hawker.

In Uganda, they have a simpler idea: instead of plastic bags, use banana leaves. ::Reuters

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