South African Government bans plastic carrier bags

The South African Government is toughening up on pollution with the approval by Cabinet of two new moves – one to ban off-road vehicles on beaches and the second to prohibit the use of plastic carrier bags, and is looking into compulsory recycling of construction rubble and tyres.

According to the new plastic bag regulation, from January 2003, shops will not be permitted to supply carrier bags with a thickness of less than 80 micrometers. Violations of the rule will result in a fine of up to R100,000 (£7,092) and/or one year in jail on the first offence, followed by possible imprisonment for up to 10 years on subsequent convictions.

The harshness of the penalties demonstrates the Government’s desire to send a very tough message, says Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism Valli Moosa. “We have to roll up our sleeves and clean up our country,” he said. “These regulations on plastic bags are the start of a broader look at waste management. Simply put, we as a nation have to start to recover a higher percentage of our waste lest we drown in our own garbage.”

“I am very encouraged by the overwhelming support this move has received from the public,” added Moosa. However, according to media reports, supermarkets and the plastics industry are concerned about the damage that the new regulation will do to their businesses.

Following the publication of draft regulations on the use of plastic bags in May 2000, Moosa said: “One of the things that starkly represents the perennial nature of dirt in our society is the issue of plastic bags. Plastic bags touch the lives of each and every South African, be they rich or poor. I have remarked in the past that this product is competing with the protea as our national flower in adorning our landscape.”

With regard to the banning of off-road vehicles on beaches, the new regulations allow vehicles to drive within demarcated areas for boat launching only, but do not apply to the use of vehicles for official purposes by employees of the state, bona fide emergency and rescue, public roads, and for official purposes within proclaimed harbours. Certain scientific purposes and non-recreational activities which are permitted in terms of fisheries legislation, such as seaweed harvesting, are also exempt. However, where the rules do apply, severe penalties can be imposed, including the confiscation of vehicles.

“The use of vehicles for recreational purposes on the coast is increasing,” said Moosa, welcoming the new regulations. “This use is increasingly damaging coastal ecosystems and historical sites, and diminishing the quality of the recreational experience of the general public. This diminishes the value of the coast, a vitally important national asset.”

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