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Mauritius, 1.2 million residents, needs a tremendous amount of groceries each week to sustain their households. They also need a corresponding amount of plastic bags to pack them in. However, plastic bags have now been banned across the country. The usefulness of these has been outlined because of their adverse impact on the environment. A ban was applied to lessen the financial burden on local governments, who pay to clean up the litter created by the improper disposal of these bags. 

Sustainable development is widely recognized as an overarching strategic objective of contemporary public policy. The best known exposition of the concept defines sustainable development as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. Mauritius was since long termed as ‘Ile Maurice durable’ until last year’s general election when the former government was toppled and the Maurice Ile Durable initiative was halted. The present government restyled the idea by including it in ‘vision 2030’ and renaming it as ‘sustainable development and innovation’. The idea was also classified as one of the four pillars to bring in the economic miracle, if any!

The ban of plastic probably was one of the gigantic accomplishments of the so called sustainable development and innovation. One of the major considerations was the cost and labour associated with so many single uses of plastic bags ending up in storm way system. Paper bags were rushed to be proposed as one of the alternative to plastic but these do not hold as much product and are not as convenient to use compared to their plastic counterparts. Also, they cost two to three times more than what plastic bags do.  Under the news section of the government’s website it has been clearly stated that ‘plastic bags block gutters and drains, choke farm animals and marine wildlife and pollute the soil as they gradually break down’. This statement descriptively mentions why these bags have been banned from an environmental point of view. From an economic approach, the government supposedly has created new avenues for women entrepreneurs most specifically to engage in paper bag production.

The ban of these bags is not arguable but the way that it has been done is. Was it priority to ban plastic bag first or regulate backyard bonfires that emit noxious gases which can instantly harm human health? Or regulate excessive dosage of pesticides pumped onto our edible vegetables that automatically land into the food chain? Plastic bags had to be banned one day or the other but one wouldn’t understand why other more important environmental issues have not still been dealt with first. From an international viewpoint, the ban of plastic bags is purely justified. It is good to know that these bags are manufactured from petroleum and natural gas and this is accountable to 4 % of the world’s total oil production. Both the manufacturing and disposal of plastic bags are a threat to the planet. The productions of these bags contribute to acid rain and smog. This also produces an important amount of carbon dioxide which is a direct contributor to the phenomenon of climate change. 

In all stages of a plastic bag’s life, from manufacturing to disposal, negative social and environmental impacts are evident. The planet’s environment, including its soil, water and air, is affected directly in numerous ways, beginning with the extraction and use of fossil fuels during the manufacturing process of plastic bags. But we cannot argue that people are missing those bags that were readily available, cheap and convenient to use. Many alternatives were proposed but out of all these, paper and textile fabric bags have emerged to be more useful. Yet, ecograde bags that have been recommended as a direct replacement for plastic bags have not been so far introduced in Mauritius. Ecograde bags are made up of a new compound, which degrade in the environment. Plastic bags have been of much help since ages but it was high time to bag those. Sudden and drastic measures could make us lament in the future but this measure was proposed long ago but has now been implemented.

Bhushan Chummun


Souvenir Advance Magazine 18 Sep 2017, launched by Dr Navinchandra Ramgoolam, Leader of the Mauritius Labour Party.

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