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Malawi's top court outlaws single-use plastic

Continued use of the plastics will from now on attract fines, closure of factories and seizure of the prohibited products.

 Picture: Marine Conservation Society

BLANTYRE - Malawi's paramount court has ruled in favour of a ban on plastic, upholding a 2015 government bar on producing, distributing and importing thin single-use plastics typically used in packaging and wrapping.

In a judgement handed down last month, a seven-judge panel of the Supreme Court of Appeal threw out a challenge by plastic manufacturers to stop a ban introduced four years ago.

At least a dozen companies had obtained an injunction against implementing the ban, arguing that it infringed on their business rights.

But the court this week ruled that plastics measuring less than 60 microns (60 millionths of a metre) were an environmental hazard as they take a long time to decompose despite their thinness.

Continued use of the plastics will from now on attract fines, closure of factories and seizure of the prohibited products, said the court.

Tawonga Mbale, an environmental director at the ministry of natural resources, welcomed the ruling.

"Plastics do not biodegrade, so it is a win for the environment," said Mbale.

Plastic manufacturers in Malawi produce an estimated 75,000 tonnes of plastic per year, of which some 80% is single-use plastic, according to the Lilongwe Wildlife Trust.

The industry claims that 5,000 jobs could be lost because of the ban.

Environmentalists argue that the costs of plastic pollution for municipalities, fisheries, agriculture, tourism and human health far outweigh the cost of prohibition.

"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," said Lilongwe Wildlife Trust chief executive officer Jonny Vaughan.

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