Plastic bags continue to change hands in Malawi, two months after the government outlawed their use to protect the environment.

The Malawi government announced the ban in early August on the manufacture, import and use of plastic bags with a thickness of less than 60 microns.

The announcement of the ban followed the end of a year-long grace period the government gave manufacturers to exhaust their stock. The government said penalties for non-compliance with the ban range from fines to imprisonment.

But two months later, bags continue to be sold because the Plastic Manufacturers Association of Malawi filed a legal challenge in the High Court asking for judicial review.

Legal wrangling

“What we are saying is that when the ministry [of Environment] issued the notice of the ban [in 2013] effective June 2014, the manufacturers went to the minister for a discussion on whether it was appropriate to effect the ban in June 2014,” explained Frank Mbeta, the legal representative for the association. ” So having heard whatever the manufacturers presented, he [the minister] gave them another notice in form of a letter saying we have extended the ban until June 2015.”

Mbeta said it came as a surprise to the manufacturers when the principal secretary for the ministry announced the ban in August.

“And we are also arguing that the principal secretary cannot have powers to overturn the decision by the minister. In terms of administrative arrangement that is not proper, considering the hierarchy,” said Mbeta.

He said the manufacturers are asking the government to adhere to the earlier agreement to delay the ban to 2015.

Environmentalists appeal

Mbeta said after receiving the legal documents, the High Court ordered the two sides to negotiate, and asked them to report to the court within 14 days if they fail to reach an agreement. That 14-day period has now elapsed.

The Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mines Director of Environment, Aloysius Kamperewera, told the media both sides have agreed to take the issue back to the court.

“What I can say now is that we have been discussing and we have agreed on a certain framework, so we need to report to the [High Court] judge, and we are going to publish in the papers the program that will follow,” said Kamperewera.

Kamperewera declined to disclose the framework agreed upon during the negotiations.

Environmentalists have long accused plastic bags of posing an environmental and health hazard to people, as well as animals, with the potential to kill on average one animal every three months due to unintentional digestion or inhalation. They recommend the use of “environmental friendly bags,” which can easily decompose or be recycled.

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