Editorial comment: EMA needs to think about anti-waste strategy

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The herald

One of the latest measures taken by the Environmental Management Agency is to restart the process of banning plastic bags in shops and supermarkets, but in Zimbabwe this is hardly a problem and there is many other waste and pollution issues that require priority.

Almost all of those plastic bags bought in Zimbabwe, and the move to forcing stores to charge for them was a smart move, are being recycled. Some are reused for shopping, and most end their days as a trash bag, neatly bundling household trash for the day a truck might come by and pick it up. Without such bags, much of our trash and waste would be much worse.

Garbage dumps and littering are still serious problems across Zimbabwe, despite campaigns and efforts to change the national culture from a culture that tolerates litter, or at least allows all of us to throw litter. rubbish if not other people, to one who disapproves of the practice so strongly that he simply stops.

When he took office, President Mnangagwa began the monthly clean-up day, which was not intended to sort the trash by cleaning once a month, but rather to get people to think about not doing damage in the first place. Covid-19 lockdowns make it difficult to hold large community gatherings to pick up litter, but certainly don’t stop people from keeping their own edges clean and, more importantly, not throwing their litter on the edges of others . It should be something that we do automatically, as decent human beings, without the head of state giving us a monthly reminder.

Part of the problem is the shortage of functioning garbage trucks in Harare and other cities. Instead of keeping their garbage neatly packed while waiting for collection, many people simply take it to the nearest open space and throw it away.

As part of the anti-waste campaign, many companies have come forward and installed public waste containers, with a standard design that someone had thought about that was a significant improvement over what we had seen before. . Donors naturally put their announcements aside, which was fair enough. The shortage of garbage collector means that these are not emptied as often as they should be, hence the overflow.

Okay, councils should do better, but sitting in a sea of ​​garbage as some sort of protest against municipal inefficiency really defies reason. Some owners solve the problem well, carefully compressing their trash into large plastic bags and tying it up, keeping it in their yard so that stray dogs and scavengers can’t tear and loot them, until they hear the trash truck horn on occasional visits. Other rubbish.

The EMA must campaign to make households more reasonable, rather than trying to ban just about the one bag most will use to hold their garbage. If people wanted to be really reasonable, they could also minimize the amount of waste they produce. For starters, many could dig a ditch in their garden for organic waste, cabbage leaves and carrot tops, etc., and compost them, leaving only inorganic waste in a bag.

When you look at the trash that tends to accumulate along the shoulders and in the sewers of most cities, it’s very clear that supermarket bags are just not included.

What makes up most of the litter are take-out packaging, empty plastic bottles, cans, empty packaging that once held snacks, broken glass bottles, boxes of cigarettes and weird little ones. disgusting and almost unidentifiable pieces of garbage.

A few years ago, there was some progress when expanded polystyrene containers were banned for health reasons. Unfortunately, most of the substitutes were polyethylene terephthalate, normally abbreviated as PET, and this is quite indestructible, hence its usefulness for temporary but hygienic containers for food and drink. A few have chosen cardboard, which has the advantage that when thrown away it eventually rots, but termites and other cardboard-eating creatures can take their time turning the boxes into dirt. There are things the EMA could do. One policy, which has worked in the handful of countries that have tried it, is to have a modest deposit on all PET cans and bottles. These cannot be reused, but by giving them a value, people bring them together to claim the deposit back.

To some extent these are already recycled for scrap, but this process could be supplemented by a deposit system.

The problem of take-out containers, crisps packs and empty drink bags cannot be solved this way, so we come back once again to the countryside and, perhaps just as importantly, the application of our regulations. Littering is a crime, but the majority of the population are happy to be criminals and never get caught.

It is possible to change the culture. Those who visit Namibia are generally amazed that there is simply no trash. Even tourists who sometimes throw in a little trash are confronted by a Namibian who carefully explains “we don’t do that here, so pick it up”.

And this is done without the kind of enforcement seen, for example, in Singapore, where dropping a match can result in a hefty fine. Namibian cities still have street sweepers as the country is largely desert and semi-desert and so someone has to sweep the sand, but that’s all they sweep.

The EMA will find that there is no magic formula to reducing waste except by making people not to throw away waste in the first place. Cleaning up later can help, but a lot of people don’t like cleaning up after others who just don’t care.

This anti-garbage effort must be complemented by other programs, such as more and more curb and sidewalk garbage cans, more frequent garbage collection and the enforcement of anti-garbage laws. Banning just about the one bag most people use for garbage collection isn’t much of a solution.

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