Plastic Pollution

Authoritarian Governments Jail Plastic Bag Users; Environmentalists Cheer

Tanzania follows in the footsteps of Rwanda and Kenya.

|

Tanzania has become the latest East African country to crack down on plastic bags. A new law there threatens to fine and jail people who make or use the items.

Those caught carrying a plastic bag can be hit with a $13 fine, according to German news site Deutsche Welle. Manufacturing them can be punished by a $400,000 fine and up to two years in jail.

Those are pretty steep penalties in a country where some 70 percent of people live on less than $2 a day.

Some environmentalists are nevertheless pleased.

"Plastic is a number one polluter of environment and a silent killer of our natural environment and resources," says Amani Ngusaru, the local director for the World Wildlife Fund. "We are happy that Tanzania is among the very few African countries to ban the use of plastic bags and we will work hard toward supporting the government in the fight against plastic pollution."

Both Rwanda and Kenya—who implemented plastic bag bans in 2008 and 2017, respectively—have earned similar praise.

"Rwanda, a pioneer in banning single-use plastic bags, is now one of the cleanest nations on earth," says Erik Solheim, the head of the United Nation's Environmental Program, in a 2018 report on bag bans. "Kenya has followed suit, helping clear its iconic national parks and save its cows from an unhealthy diet."

"To see a developing country implement and carry out such legislation is ground-breaking. It goes to show, anything can be possible if the political will really exists and true efforts are made," reads a blog post from environmental group Plastic Oceans on Rwanda's bag ban.

Such accounts gloss over the authoritarian ways they've been implemented.

In 2016, Al Jazeera reported on the heavy-handed measures taken along the Rwanda-Congolese border to stop the trade in illegal plastic bags:

If caught, smugglers say they are forced to destroy the bags, sometimes with their teeth. Worse, they are detained indefinitely and fined hundreds of dollars, which they have no means of paying. On the Congolese side, they say, beatings are common, and in exchange for sex, officers might allow smugglers to cross the border without paying a bribe.

Reports from Kenya, meanwhile, are filled with stories of plastic-bag crackdowns that read like descriptions of drug raids here in the U.S.

In February 2018, 31 people were rounded up in Kenya's plastic bag raids, according to Kenyan news site Daily Nation. "We are following leads and tracking the dealers. We are going to work day and night to rid Mombasa and the entire country of plastic bags," said one environmental official.

In May 2018, Canada's CBC reported on the case of a Kenyan fruit seller who was jailed overnight and had his wares confiscated for giving his customers plastic bags.

In time, we can expect similar stories to trickle out of Tanzania too.

Plastic pollution is certainly a problem in these countries. Single-use plastic items pile up in urban areas, are consumed by livestock, and leak out into oceans. According to many academic studies, East Africa is one of the biggest sources of marine plastic waste.

But the U.S. and Europe have managed to dramatically reduce their own leakage of plastic waste into the environment with better waste management, not by fining, jailing, and ritually humiliating plastic bag smugglers.

Environmentalists the world over might be better served by building up trash collection and recycling systems in these countries, not cheering for violent crackdowns on everyday items.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

27 responses to “Authoritarian Governments Jail Plastic Bag Users; Environmentalists Cheer

  1. But you MUST punish folks who might be contributing to things you don’t like.

    Reminds me of the recent Alabama law that would bypass judges who don’t grant licenses to same-sex couples. It’d allow any couple in Alabama, opposite or same sex, to get married with no problem, but folks oppose it, not because it’d allow same-sex marriage, but because the judges aren’t being punished.

    Read the comments here for a sample.
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/alabama-lawmakers-pass-workaround-bill-on-same-sex-marriage/2019/05/23/2d7f1ccc-7db1-11e9-b1f3-b233fe5811ef_story.html?utm_term=.46750edbaf81

    1. What comments? Apparently Pravda has deleted them.

  2. “Rwanda, a pioneer in banning single-use plastic bags, is now one of the cleanest nations on earth”

    This might be one of the most fantastically absurd quotes I’ve ever seen

    1. “The hygiene, water and sanitation project was developed due to people in Rwandan villages suffering unnecessarily from cholera, dysentery, diarrhea and other water borne diseases. These diseases spread because of unhygienic practices i.e. unclean drinking water and the use of unsanitary toilet facilities.

      At present, Rwanda suffers from great disparity between urban and rural areas. Urban areas benefit from better amenities due to improved infrastructure while many people in rural areas still have little access to clean water and adequate sanitation facilities. Africa Ahead found in 2011 that while 32% of Rwandans use piped water, only 3.4% or as little as 0.9% in rural areas, have access to it in within their houses or plots. In rural areas, women and children spend on averages 30 minutes collecting water and only a small proportions of latrines meet safety standards. ”

      1. Uh…. but are there used plastic bags piled up around the community well? Yeah, I thought not….

        Q.E.D. buddy. Q.E.D.

    2. Not fantastically absurd, but rather outrageously tone deaf statements ever. Considering the ETHNIC CLEANSING that went on there.

      1. yeah, talk about focusing on the wrong problem

  3. “Rwanda, a pioneer in banning single-use plastic bags, is now one of the cleanest nations on earth,” says Erik Solheim, the head of the United Nation’s Environmental Program, in a 2018 report on bag bans.

    I guara-fucking-tee you Rwanda has bigger problems than this to solve.

  4. Plastic trash is a HUGE problem when you don’t have adequate waste disposal. Take a look at any developing city (like Kinshasa, or Nairobi). There are plastic bottles and trash everywhere. If a zero tolerance attitude is what it takes to help the problem I cannot judge them.

  5. Wait for it… wait for it..

    Next up: California makes possession of a plastic bag, or a straw, a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $300 and up thirty days in jail.

    1. So I was with a couple of visiting friends at a restaurant yesterday. In California. The girlfriend asked the waiter for some chopsticks for her rice. He said they didn’t have chopsticks, whereupon she pondered a bit and then asked for two straws…

      Thankfully she was not arrested for asking. Just asking is still not outlawed yet.

      1. Ha! I’d like to see someone try to use two paper straws as chopsticks. Plastic would be unlikely, but the paper crap? Yikes!

  6. I guess Rwanda cleaned up all the heads, limbs and other body parts in their rivers and jungles.

  7. Stuff like this is why I would be more than happy to see every environmentalist drop dead. Seriously, these people are absolutely insane.

    1. Consider the source of the statement [UN]; it’s pretty much an authoritarian nonsense factory.

    2. Like with everything, it’s the extremists who give each cause a bad name. That said, environmental pollution is a market externality that is often cited by free marketers as a justifiable example where governments should intervene.

      1. You’d think it would be cheaper and more to just clean it up than to lock people up and extort them for money and sex. Even accepting your premise of govt intervention being justified, this is a stupid solution.

  8. Environmentalists the world over might be better served by building up trash collection and recycling systems in these countries, not cheering for violent crackdowns on everyday items.

    Assuming that “environmentalists” are more interested in the environment than the violent crackdowns. A highly dubious proposition.

  9. Just goes to show that some Africans governments are so far up the asses of fat affluent European liberals that one wonders if colonialism ever truly ended.

  10. “Those caught carrying a plastic bag can be hit with a $13 fine”

    Tanzania let’s people off light. In Rwanda, the same fine will cost you an arm and a leg.

  11. “Rwanda, a pioneer in banning single-use plastic bags, is now one of the cleanest nations on earth,”

    Even their funeral industry is ecologically responsible. Some graves hold hundreds, even thousands, of bodies.

  12. “Authoritarian Governments Jail Plastic Bag Users; Environmentalists Cheer”

    This is, perhaps, because the intersection of the sets, “Authoritarians” and “Environmentalists” is quite large.

  13. Sorry, I should have worded that as:

    “This is, perhaps, because the intersection of the sets, “Authoritarians” and “Environmentalists” iincludes large numbers of both.”

  14. I’ll give Rwanda this much – their streets do appear to be pretty clean in Kigali based on a google image search. At least in the areas where people from English speaking countries post pictures.

  15. easy way out — just order everything online…. individually boxed and shipped to your door, highest carbon footprint yet.

  16. “Kenya has followed suit, helping clear its iconic national parks and save its cows from an unhealthy diet.”

    They had cattle that ate plastic bags? That sounds like a cleanup solution in itself.

Please to post comments