Single-use plastics still used in Cameroon markets despite ban

RFI | In Buea, in the South-West region of Cameroon, single-use plastic bags can easily be found at local markets despite a ban brought in seven years ago. With the ongoing security crisis in the Anglophone regions, police no longer have time to enforce the rules.

Trader Julius Nga parks his wheelbarrow filled with onions, garlic, salt and bouillon cubes to sell to customers at Soppo market. He also has the plastic-backed white butcher paper for sale, a product that was banned more than seven years ago.

Today, unlike in the past, Nga doesn’t have any problems with government controllers who monitor single-use plastics.

“There are times that the police have come to the market, seizing all the plastic, but I have not seen them recently,” he says.

Some seven years after the government in Cameroon banned the use of single-use plastic, the non-biodegradable product is still found in markets and on the streets of Buea.

Pharmacies, bakeries, supermarkets and distributors of plastic packaging were initially targeted, but security problems in the region mean police are busy elsewhere.

The plastic is easy to find, says packaging dealer Collins Njoh.

“We buy some bags from Douala but others, like the butcher paper wraps are being imported from Nigeria,” says Njoh, adding that while the control team from the Delegation of Environment used to bother them, they no longer do.

“There are times police enter the market for control. We were being bothered but as a family man you can’t sit in the house without doing anything, so I am just managing,” he says.

No alternatives?

Njoh and others who spoke to Africa Calling’s Batata Boris Karloff say they know that they shouldn’t use this plastic because it is not biodegradable. Small traders, commonly called buyam- sellams say they can’t find alternatives, however.

Market orange-seller Elizabeth Ngomo says she’s aware of the dangers of using non-biodegradable plastics.

“They told us that the wrappings cannot decay. And I am not happy selling with them but I don’t have a choice because there no alternatives that could use,” she says.

Packaging by Ekose was founded a year after the deadline on single-use plastic imposed by the Cameroon government.

The paper bag manufacturer distributes in major towns like Douala, Maroua, Yaoundé, and Buea. Founder Hamlet Tandy admits there are some challenges like a hike in prices of raw materials, as well the difficulty in finding skilled staff.

“Everybody that choses paper bags over plastics helps to protect the environment,” Tandy, the founder of the company.

“Once you do that, you know that in a little way you have contributed in protecting the environment because paper tears down faster than plastics,” he says.

Anglophone crisis

The government’s regional delegations recorded some success at the initial stage of the ban but with the outbreak of the Anglophone crisis and lack of alternatives, an all-out ban has proven difficult.

The conflict between the army and separatists in the North-West and South-West English-speaking regions has killed more than 3,500 people and displaced around 700,000 since it began in 2017.

“When any thin plastic is intercepted at the port we are informed so that measures are put in place to destroy the plastic,” South-West region environment chief Patience Asanji Dufela says.

She says that the government decided to stick to patrolling illegal plastic on the borders, rather than going into the markets, due to the ongoing insecurity.

“Our chief of post and the custom duty people help intercept plastic at the borders, but you know, Cameroon, especially the South-West, has a large border with Nigeria, so we can’t say it’s been 100 percent successful,” she adds.

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