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Taxes, fines and jail time: The strictest plastic bag laws around the world

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AFRICA: Jail time and massive fines 

African nations have led the way in the plastic bag movement with more than 15 countries either banning the bag completely or imposing a tax on using them. 

South Africa was the first to issue a ban after declaring the plastic bag had become their ‘national flower’. This was due to the amount of bags turning up in trees and bushes as litter. In 2003 South Africa announced fines of 100,000 rand ($AUD11,000) or a 10-year jail term to show they were serious about the issue. At the time the government claimed the country of 55 million people was using about eight billion plastic bags per year.

In 2017 Kenya topped South Africa’s tough stance on bags by making producing, selling and even using plastic bags illegal. To make sure the message hit home, Kenya imposed a maximum fine of $AU56,000 – making it the world’s toughest law aimed at reducing plastic pollution. Its ban aimed to reduce the impact on wildlife, combat increased cases of malaria (the bags were thought to be breeding grounds for the disease) and fight land pollution. When the ban came into force, Kenya-based marine litter expert Habib El-Habr told The Guardian that if the world continued without doing something about plastic bags “by 2050, we will have more plastic in the ocean than fish.”


Not everyone was pleased with Kenya’s tough measures though – Samuel Matonda, a spokesman for the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, warned the ban would see 60,000 jobs lost and force 176 manufacturers to close. To help consumers, supermarkets have started offering customers cloth bags as alternatives.

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The North African country of Morocco was once considered the world’s second-largest consumer of plastic bags following the United States, according to Greenpeace. But since 2016, Morocco has stopped the production, import, sale and distribution of plastic bags. It took a while for consumers to adjust though; initially the ban – dubbed Zero Mika (zero plastic) – resulted in a “plastic panic” where the public stockpiled bags just before the ban came into place. Eventually, habits changed and Moroccans took to using cloth bags. In 2017 press agency AFP reported Moroccan authorities had seized about 420 tonnes of plastic bags illegally in use in the year since the ban came into effect.

Mauritania, a country in North-western Africa introduced a crackdown on plastic bag use to prevent mass sheep and cattle deaths related to plastic ingestion. Meanwhile, Ethiopia passed a ban in 2011 preventing manufacture and import of single-use bags as part of the Ethiopia Green Growth Strategy.

Other African countries that have bans or taxes in place include Rwanda, Mali, Cameroon, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, Malawi, Morocco, Botswana.

ASIA: The ‘white pollution’ problem

Bangladesh was the first country in the world to introduce a ban on plastic bags in 2002. The decision was made in response to the need to protect their sewage systems and avoids future flooding disasters.

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