Illegal trade of plastic bags still rife in Morocco

Sunday 30/07/2017

Casablanca - As the world observed In­ternational Plastic Bag Free Day, Morocco was making considerable ef­forts to eradicate plastic shopping bags a year after intro­ducing a ban on the bags but illegal trade is rife.
Plastic bags are visible in local markets despite the risk of hefty fines and imprisonment mandated by the ban.
Morocco, which is one the largest consumers of plastic bags with 26 billion units — 800 bags per person — each year, prohibited the manufacture, import, export, marketing and use of plastic bags with a measure adopted July 1, 2016.
The Ministry of Industry said in a statement that 57 companies pro­duce alternative solutions with an annual capacity of 1 billion woven bags, 1.8 billion non-woven bags, 8 billion paper bags and 1,000 tonnes of thermoforming products.
“The increase in the need for al­ternative solutions has been accom­panied by the emergence of new channels,” the ministry said, add­ing that 24 companies affected by the plastic bag ban have benefited from a fund of $20 million set up to support them. The ministry said the companies not only kept their workforce but added a total of 640 jobs
Morocco launched an awareness operation called “Zero Mika,” urg­ing people to use alternative solu­tions, such as shopping carts and paper bags. “Zero Mika” was the re­sult of a process that started in 1997 and was bolstered in 2009-10 with the banning of black plastic bags.
Trade on plastic bags is rampant on the black market, however.
Abdelaziz Lazrak, president of the Moroccan association of pro­ducers of non-wovens, warned about an “underground” market that is threatening producers of al­ternative bags.
“The Ministry of Industry is do­ing a great job but it will not win the war on plastic bags in the short run because there are many loopholes in (the bag ban law),” Lazrak said.
“Many companies that used to make plastic bags have made huge investments into alternatives, which they now see as not credible due to a flourishing underground market that is putting their future in jeopardy,” he said, calling on the In­terior Ministry to reinforce inspec­tions in markets across the country.
The bustling Bab Marrakech dis­trict of Casablanca’s ancient medina is awash with plastic bags sold by street vendors. Fruit and vegetable sellers offer plastic bags to their cus­tomers despite the ban.
“We are paying 40 dirhams ($4) for a kilogram of plastic bags on the black market instead of 15 dirhams prior to the ban. I have no choice but to provide bags for my custom­ers otherwise I will lose them,” said Mohammed, a fruit vendor.
Street vendors say the cost of al­ternative bags is too high and they are not practical.
“Paper bags are expensive and unmanageable,” said Mohammed.
Sandwich bar owner Rachid Ba­loul said: “It will take years to eradi­cate the culture of plastic bag use in Morocco because the law is not being properly enforced besides the lack of an awareness campaign in busy local markets.”
“For takeaways, I give my cus­tomers paper bags, which cost me a lot more than plastic bags. I have to abide by the law or risk a fine,” said Baloul.
Nearly 80,000 smugglers are re­ported to be active and some plastic bag producers have resumed their activities informally, the Moroccan Coalition for Climate Justice (CMJC) said in a report.
Nearly 2,500 inspections have been carried out at the level of industrial units and more than 430,000 awareness and control op­erations have been carried out at points of sale, the Ministry of Indus­try said. It said 11,142 offences were reported and 1,800 had been sent to the public prosecutor’s office. Oper­ations resulted in the seizure of 456 tonnes of banned bags.
More than 53 tonnes of contra­band bags were confiscated at bor­der posts and on some roads and a total of 562 verdicts were issued with fines of nearly $460,000, said the ministry, which urged Moroc­cans to take responsibility for the environment.