Illegal trade of plastic bags still rife in Morocco
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.