Senegal among latest to ban flimsy plastic bags

By Carley Petesch, AP

DAKAR, Senegal–At a market in Senegal’s capital, the sandy paths are strewn with them. They blow around like feathers in Dakar’s coastal breezes, piling up alongside buildings on city streets and clogging canals.

Thin plastic shopping bags, and pieces of them, litter this seaside capital and the nearby waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The number of discarded bags is staggering �X a total of 5 million in Senegal, according to Environment Minister Abdoulaye Balde.

Now, the government is set to impose a ban, joining a global shift against the bags.

Street vendors wonder how they will do business without them. Dauda Ndiaye sells hundreds of plastic bags a day to other vendors, who sell fish, meat and other goods in the Ouakam neighborhood. For 500 francs (about US$1), a customer can buy a packet of 100.

Banning the bags will ��be a huge problem because all the vendors here use plastic to sell nuts, glass, meat, fruit and vegetables,�� said Ndiaye, a 23-year-old father of three. ��If they are going to ban plastic, I won’t be able to feed my family.��

Another merchant, Ami Ndiaye, says she must keep using plastic to protect the charcoal she sells wrapped in small paper rolls which are then neatly piled into plastic.

��The problem isn’t the plastic, it’s the people,�� she said. ��People must put it in the garbage and not on the streets so animals don’t eat it and it doesn’t pile up.��

But Pascaline Ouedraego fully supports the measures, saying she worries about chemicals from the sacks getting into the food she buys. She moved to Senegal four years ago from Burkina Faso, which adopted a ban.

��The problem is no one understands what else to use, so it’s been difficult,�� she said of Burkina Faso. ��Little by little people can learn�� to use safer alternative products, like paper and reusable bags.

In April, Senegal’s National Assembly unanimously prohibited the production, importation, possession and use of the black bags that are so thin they can barely hold several cans of soda without falling apart and are usually discarded after one use. Implementation was planned for six months later.

In 2013, Mauritania imposed a ban, saying an estimated 70 percent of cattle and sheep in the capital were dying from ingesting plastic bags, according to the Washington-based Earth Policy Institute. Cameroon, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Mali, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia and Malawi are also among countries that have adopted or announced bans, according to the institute. Botswana and South Africa require a certain thickness of plastic bags, so they can be reused, and added levies saw a reduction in use, the institute added.