By Sailu Bah
Vendors as well as consumers who use plastic bags as containers for the stuff they sell or buy are calling on the authorities to provide a substitute following the announcement of the banning of the use of plastics in the country, effective 1 July, 2015.
A press release issued by the president’s office on Monday, 20th April 2015, and read on state television, announced a complete ban on the importation and use of plastic bags in the country. According to the release, “the indiscriminate use of plastic bags in the Gambia poses a serious existentialist threat to the fragile ecosystem of the country and presents an unwarranted environmental eyesore. Plastic bags are also responsible for suffocation deaths of sea and land animals as well as inhibiting soil nutrients.”
This development has, however, prompted the reaction of people who depended on the plastic bags of various types to sell their goods or to use as containers when they purchase certain things. They have all indicated that the government should have considered the introduction of a substitute to plastic bags before announcing the ban.
This reporter went round to the markets and streets to check with vendors whose trade depends on the use of plastic bags as well as shoppers, such as market women, who have been using it as containers.
Fatoumata Jallow, a vendor, who sells cakes, roasted groundnuts and cold water in plastic bags, said the ban means the end of business for her as she has no alternative.
“If plastic bags are banned, where can I put the snacks and water to sell?” she asked.
She said unless there is a substitute to the plastic bags, she does not know how to sell the snacks and water.
“Putting the food I sell to customers on paper is not hygienic at all,” said Fatoumata.
She revealed that this petty trade she is doing is what supports her family as a supplement to the meager income earned by her husband.
“We do not support anything that is harmful to the environment as they have said in the announcement but there should be a substitute to enable people like me to continue with our petty trade and sell food in a hygienic condition and earn something to support the livelihood of our poor families,” she concluded.
Fatoumata said she also supports two of her kids who are going to school with the little income she earns from the petty trade she is doing.
Isatou Bojang, a housewife found shopping at the main Serekunda market, said the ban will cause inconvenience to them as most of the things they buy are put in plastic bags. “The rice, cooking oil, pepper and vegetables that we always buy retail in the market are all put in plastic bags. It means we are now going to carry extra loads, such as bottles for these different types of foodstuff,” she said.
A shop owner, who prefers anonymity, said he is not opposed to the ban of plastic bags but that there should be an alternative or at least a reasonable period of notice longer than what they have given to enable them to adjust gradually.
“It will not be easy for us if there are no other options. I understand that there are bags or containers made out of paper that are introduced recently in the market and which can be used as containers, but they are not of quality,” he said.
Muhammed Ndow, who contested as candidate for the New Town East Ward councillorship election in Banjul, suggested that the government can think about bringing a factory where plastic bags can be recycled. “This factory can help in the creation of employment as well as protect the environment from the harmful effects of plastic bags,” he said.