Morocco Moves To Ban Plastic Bags

A landmark bill under consideration would ban all production, import, sale and distribution of plastic bags.
Plastic bags float around near Tafraout, located in the Anti-Atlas mountains in Morocco.
Plastic bags float around near Tafraout, located in the Anti-Atlas mountains in Morocco.
Ullstein Bild via Getty Images

Morocco is witnessing a small environmental revolution. Six years after banning black plastic bags, the country’s government has set its sights on banning all other kinds of plastic bags. On Oct. 29, Morocco’s Government Council drafted a landmark bill that bans the production, import, sale and distribution of plastic bags in the country.

Bill No. 77-15, proposed by the Minister of Industry, would not apply to plastic bags for agricultural and industrial use or for waste collection, reports CNN Arabic. It needs to be approved by both chambers of parliament to become law.

It is estimated that the world uses a trillion single-use plastic bags a year, which are projected to stay in the environment for centuries. Moroccans use 26 billion plastic bags annually, making the country the second-largest consumer of plastic bags in the world, after the United States, Moroccan news site Yabiladi notes.

Curbing the use of plastic bags has been on the government’s agenda for years. In September 2009, the country banned the production and use of black plastic bags by ministerial decree; they had been littering the country’s streets, beaches and countryside.

In 2010, Morocco issued the Law on the Use of Degradable or Biodegradable Plastic Bags and Sacks, which specified standards for plastic bags that are locally produced, imported, sold or distributed.

When the bill came into effect in 2011, it was met with resistance from local plastics manufacturers who felt that the transition would require significant investment, as L’Economiste noted at the time.

A Moroccan woman walks past trash near the polluted coastline of Rabat on September 28, 2012.
A Moroccan woman walks past trash near the polluted coastline of Rabat on September 28, 2012.
AFP via Getty Images

The Moroccan government has, over the past few years, turned to other solutions to address the proliferation of plastic bags.

Between 2011 and 2012, The Department of Environment collaborated with the Ministry of Interior on the National Program for the Collection and Disposal of Plastic Bags, which resulted in the collection and disposal of 1,000 tons of discarded plastic bags across the country.

In 2013, Fouad Douiri, former Minister of Energy, Mines, Water and Environment launched an initiative to replace plastic bags with canvas bags. More than 20 towns across the country participated in the program.

But despite the different government initiatives to curb their use, "plastic bags are still everywhere," said Yassine Zegzouti, director of Mawarid, a Marrakech-based nonprofit founded in 2009 to promote environmental sustainability. Where previous laws and government programs have largely offered temporary, incremental measures, the newly proposed law would address the proliferation of plastic bags head-on by altogether banning their production, import, sale and distribution in Morocco.

The Moroccan government and nonprofit organizations such as Mawarid have repeatedly attempted to raise awareness in Moroccan society of the negative impacts of using plastic bags. Mawarid was behind “Morocco without plastic bags,” a nationwide awareness campaign that sought to halt the circulation of non-biodegradable plastic bags in Moroccan cities. The campaign promoted the adoption of fair-trade, eco-friendly bags instead.

But Zegzouti says that plastic bags are still supplied by the informal economy, over which the government has limited control.

Consumption habits that are deeply rooted in Moroccan society have also exacerbated the problem. "With a culture of grocery shopping, Moroccans buy a lot in retail. They also tend to ask for plastic bags for other uses, including as garbage bags," Zegzouti says.

For the time being, it’s unclear whether the government will offer any alternative to plastic bags if the law is adopted. Morocco could follow the lead of the French island of Corsica, which banned non-biodegradable plastic bags and instead forced customers to use paper bags or pay for shopping bags. France will ban the use of disposable plastic bags in supermarkets starting in 2016, in favor of thicker reusable bags.

This story originally appeared on HuffPost Morocco. It has been translated into English and edited for clarity.

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