Not many consumers, distributors and producers of plastic bags and sachet water are aware that the federal government’s ban on the products takes effect from January 1
| By Anayo Ezugwu | Jan. 6, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT
THE federal government is set to ban plastic bags and sachet water, starting from January 1, 2014, but not many Nigerians are aware of such move. Investigations by Realnews have revealed that many Nigerians including manufacturers of plastic bags, consumers and dealers are ignorant of the ban. Maurice Okon, a pure water seller, said he was not aware of such a law. He wondered why government policies do not always have the interest of the citizens at heart.
Okon said that he was not against the ban but that the government should develop an alternative that would be simple and affordable for the producers to remain in business. “As we are talking about health, we are also talking about security and life; these people in pure water business are not criminals and most of them are employers of labour. Government should be careful not to turn them into something else in their quest for survival since a healthy person can become sick due to insecurity or die due to crime,” he said.
Mama Remedy, a pure water dealer, said she was not aware of the ban. She said she was surprised to hear that the federal government wants to ban sachet water and plastic bags. “Why is government taking away every business enjoyed by the middle and small businessmen and women in this country? This is an attempt by the government to widen the gap between the rich and the poor and add even more hardship on the masses,” she said.
The Civil Liberty Organisation, CLO, a non-governmental organisation, has also criticised government on the plan to ban sachet water. The group said that the plan to ban sachet water would increase unemployment and poverty rates in the country. Livingstone Wechie, publicity secretary, CLO, said that the ban would be a negation of President Goodluck Jonathan’s transformation agenda. He said that sachet water was an alternative source of potable water to the common man.
“Water-borne diseases are very common in the country because of the poverty rate, but the sachet water has reduced its prevalence. A lot of people have been empowered through the production and sale of sachet water; some of these people were once frustrated,” he said.
Wechie urged the federal government to have a rethink, saying that it should, instead, devise the means of improving the quality of the water. According to him, regulatory agencies should do more work by fishing out the adulterated ones, as well as closing down all unregistered sachet water industries. He said that sachet water production was one of the country’s fastest growing industries and should be promoted for accelerated economic growth.
Wechie noted that the industry was indispensable in the nation’s march to economic advancement, describing it as a panacea to poverty. He advised the government to provide recycling centres for sachets which could be turned to manure. He bemoaned the use of contaminated water and substandard machines for production, adding that this had posed a serious problem to the industry.
But experts in the country’s health sector have hailed the proposed ban on sachet water by the federal government. Chukwuemeka Oluoha, healthcare expert, said the proposed ban of the packaging of sachet water in cellophane was in the interest of public health. He said that the plastic material used in packaging pure water was not good for products meant for consumption.
He said when a plastic material was exposed to high temperature it dissolved gradually and released potentially dangerous cancer causing substances, called oxidants. “The public, subsequently, drinks these without knowing because it is not seen.” He said that the pure water sachets affected the environment because they were non-bio-degradable materials. “Besides, pure water sachets are not well disposed of in our environment and left unattended, they accumulate because they are not bio-degradable. This causes environmental nuisance and because it traps water, this can interfere with long-term fertility of the soil,” he said.
Oluoha commended the government for the proposed ban but urged it to develop an alternative packaging with non-cellophane biodegradable properties. “Before embarking on the ban, government should develop an alternative packaging so that the pure water producers will remain in business.” Uche Okekearu, a pharmacologist, said that although pure water business had helped greatly, in the creation of jobs, public health should not be compromised.
“Sometimes, when you drink pure water, it has a terrible taste which is caused by the place it is kept. If stored in a food fridge or smelly fridge, it will have foul taste. If you store a pure water bag on bare floor, the ones at the base of the bag will have odour with bad taste and the way the package is presented, can cause water borne diseases. This is because, if the seller’s hand is dirty, the buyer is bound to drink in such dirt while sucking in the water; all sides of the pure water packaging are exposed to dirt,” she said.
The federal government earlier this year said it would ban plastic bags and sachet water, beginning from January 1, 2014, in a bid to arrest the growing environmental hazards caused by the littering of waste in the country. Hadiza Mailafia, minister of environment, said that the plan was to replace the nylon bags with paper bags. According to her, government is also considering doing away with the use of sachet water.
Mailafia explained that the decision to ban plastic bags was necessitated by the numerous health and environmental hazards associated with its use. She noted that while paper bags could easily decompose after being dumped, plastic bags were non-biodegradable materials, which could stay in the soil for several years contaminating and destroying the environment.
Regarding the move to stop sachet water production, Maillafia said the ministry was currently conducting research along with experts on finding better alternatives that would replace sachet water. While appealing for understanding from Nigerians, the minister said sensitisation campaigns would be carried out between now and the end of the year before the commencement of the ban in January.