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Environment

The Supreme Court in Malawi Just Banned Plastic Bags — Again

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Global Citizen campaigns on the UN Global Goals, including Goals 14 and 15 for the protection of life below water and life on land, which work together to ensure environmental health and well-being. You can join us by taking action here to support the Global Goals and help cut down on plastic pollution.

Malawi is set to become the latest country in Africa to ban plastic bags — although it's actually the second time the country has introduced the ban. 

Plastic bags were first banned in Malawi back in 2015 — but the country's high court overturned the original ban in 2016 after 14 plastic manufacturers opposed the ban, saying it was “an infringement of business rights”. The plastic industry also said it wasn't consulted about how to introduce a ban of plastic without comprising livelihoods.

But on Thursday, seven supreme court judges ruled that the original 2015 plastic bag ban must be upheld after all. 

Sangwani Mwafulirwa, the spokesperson for the Department of Environmental Affairs, said that the department had struggled for over two years to conclude the case.

“We are really excited,” he added.

Plastic has been identified as one of the biggest environmental challenges facing Malawi, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNDP), and is posing a threat to Lake Malawi — one of the country’s most iconic landmarks.

“Plastic pollution poses a major threat to the lake’s status as a World Heritage Site, with significant economic costs to the tourism industry as a result of loss in aesthetic value,” the UNDP says.

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The report adds that the damage will also be significantly felt by people in Malawi too, through impacting livelihoods as well as food sources.

“Damage to marine life as a result of plastic waste is also likely to have serious consequences for fishery stocks and production — a serious concern given that many Malawian livelihoods are linked to the fisheries of Lake Malawi and other floodplain wetlands,” the report reads.

Malawi produces more than one million kilograms of plastic every year, according to Lilongwe Wildlife Trust, and 80% of it is single-use plastic that cannot be recycled.

Jonny Vaughan, CEO of Lilongwe Wildlife Trust, called the ruling “a fantastic victory for everyone who wants to see a cleaner, healthier, and prosperous Malawi.”

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“Public, political, and scientific opinion has long been in consensus on the issue of thin plastics, and I am delighted that Malawi now joins a progressive international community standing up for their natural heritage,” Vaughan added.

In a statement issued days before the ruling, the Lilongwe Wildlife Trust said: "Public opinion favours a crackdown on thin plastics."

In April 2019, the statement said, a survey of over 1,500 people found that 95% of people believed plastic pollution to be a serious issue in Malawi and 94% of people agreed with the ban.