Since the president made the official announcement on the 19th of September 2019 at the United Nations General Assembly a list of products that will be banned has been compiled and gazetted.
More details about this here > The Maldives Bans the Import of Certain Single-Use Plastics
So almost 5 months into this announcement where do we stand?
Unlike the more successful HCFC phaseout program that the Ministry of Environment has been carrying out the risk for pushback is far greater. With SUP phaseout we are dealing with Fast Moving Consumer Goods as well as FnB sector consumables such as food takeaway containers, cutlery and straws that are imported in the Millions. The importers, distributors and retailers that need to be engaged are far greater in number and have more political and financial pull to oppose any restrictions.
Though the phaseout was announced 19th of September 2019. Progress has been very slow. Draft phaseout plan was made available to the public 17th August 2020 to which there was a public event where the public could ask questions but QnA lasted for less than 30 minutes. (Still disappointed that more effort was not made to answer potential questions that the public would have raised) After which on the 25th of April 2021 the campaign name and wordmark logo and hashtag #PlastickaaNulaa was revealed. During the event the phaseout document was also finally released to the public as a “booklet”
It is fair to say that the implementation to this stage has been VERY SLOW and this is just the start. Only import level restrictions are in place that also to items that we consider very easy wins. The more challenging ones such as single use plastic carrier bags have not been addressed yet. (Yes, we are only banning that pesky small sized bag that we generally get medicines handed to us in the other size bags are still going to be imported)
Zero Waste Maldives has time and time again raised concerns and issues with the implementation of this phaseout where we believe there needs to be a dedicated team working on ensuring proper implementation and monitoring of the phaseout. There needs to be a dedicated team that is analysing import data, visiting major retailers and wholesalers and figuring out what is happening in response to the changes.
There will be good and bad changes that will come up to which there will need to be a policy response.
One example is the introduction of supari packaged in glass bottles. Though this was a step up from the single use plastic packaging that supari had it also has a few drawbacks.
Considering the lifecycle of the bottles and how they are sold they are sold as a linear packaging. You are supposed to throw away the glass bottles after use. This means in Maldives where no glass recycling takes place all these glass bottles will end up in landfill or somewhere in our ecosystem. The other major concern is that SUP packaging forced a standard serving of supari. Now with the introduction of the bottle a serving maybe more than what was previously increasing consumption and potential risk for consumers to get oral cancers.
Ideally if supari was being imported in an alternative packaging it should be imported in a paper packaging without any plastic liners. Considering all aspects of our existing waste management system this would be the most ideal.
It is also important to understand that as the phaseout plan currently stands it does not limit supari being imported in plastic bottles. Once a major importer realizes this the market will be flooded with supari in plastic bottles as that is a more cost effective option than bottled in glass. The other viable option to limit this is to capture the plastic packaging as part of an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme.
We have also heard that the Environment Act is being amended to allow for local production bans on single use plastics. However one key area that is missing from this amendment to the act (which we have already raised to the members of the plastic phaseout committee) is the lack of a provision that will force disclosure of data. This will be crucial to have so that we are able to monitor production of single use plastics locally as well as ensure that the import bans are effective or not. Local manufacturers both state owned and private are very reluctant to share their production data but this data will be required to ensure measures such as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) are implemented and are pegged to correct data.
From what has been going on with the SUP phaseout our biggest fear is that the government will come up with some excuse to roll back the implementation dates of the import ban. (Though we have suggested multiple ways to mitigate this) If the government allows for a rollback then we are setting a very bad precedent that any deadline can be pushed back endlessly. We can essentially forget the 2023 deadline.
Regardless of what happens with the Single Use Plastic Phaseout, Zero Waste Maldives is committed to keeping the pressure on the government to reduce waste generation through policy interventions and transition to a circular economy.