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Karim Traboulsi

In Arab world first, Tunisia to ban plastic bags

Plastic bags are hugely damaging to the environment [AFP]

Date of publication: 7 February, 2016

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Tunisia is blazing a trail in the Arab region, from democratic transition to the environment, poised to to ban the use of plastic bags.
In 2011, Tunisia started a wave of Arab political revolutions that changed the Arab world forever, for better or worse.

In 2016, Tunisia is again leading a revolution, though this time of a different kind.

In March, Tunisia is set to implement a ban on non-biogradabale plastic carrier bags, according to an announcement posted by the Tunisian Ministry of Environment on its official Facebook page.

Morocco and Egypt are reportedly preparing to follow suit.

Tunisia wants to ban plastic bags to protect the biodiversity of the country, according to an official at the Ministry of Environment who spoke to AFP.

The ministry "has prepared a regulatory decree prohibiting the export, distribution and manufacturing of non-biodegradable plastic bags (...), which will be presented to the government and parliament," said the director of the division of the quality of life in the ministry, Hédi Chbili.

Chbili said the ban would be "gradual", though clarity on an established timeframe remains elusive.

The ministry's announcement said a staggering one billion plastic bags were used in the country every year, 315 million of which were handed out free of charge, while 80 percent were not recycled or disposed of properly.

Just 5 percent of plastics are recycled effectively, while 40 percent end up in landfill, and a third in fragile ecosystems such as the world's oceans
-The Guardian



Centuries of pollution

"These bags take hundreds of years to degrade in nature. They harm life in cities and in the countryside and have a negative impact on many marine species such as turtles," said the Tunisian environmental official.


Another way the plastic bags are harmful is the hazardous gases their combustion and decomposition produces, let alone the carboon footprint created from their original manufacturing process - with huge implications for climate change.

The Ministry of Environment said it was working together with other ministries on plans to encourage the production of ecofriendly bags, as well as awareness campaigns to help Tunisians transition away from using plastic bags.

Since its revolution in December 2011, Tunisia has been experiencing a recurring problem of refuse collection.

In some areas, residents are left to set fire to their waste enclosed in plastic bags.

In fact, it is not uncommon to see fields and trees covered with plastic bag fragments in Tunisia.

Several countries are trying to limit the use of plastic bags, either by banning them or imposing charges on their use.

Plastic waste, including carrier bags, also eventually makes its way to the ocean.

Recently, warnings have been voiced that there will be more waste plastic than fish in the sea by 2050, according to a new Ellen MacArthur Foundation report launched at the World Economic Forum.

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