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"Flying bags" banned

Lightweight plastic carrier bags have been banned across Eritrea as part of a major new campaign to clean up the countryside.

The blue bags, used by shoppers all over the country until last week, are neither bio-degradable, nor strong enough to be used more than once. Consequently millions were thrown away each year, causing extensive environmental damage. They blocked drains and water pipes, littered towns and agricultural areas, and were being eaten by animals, causing hundreds to die.

Semere Russom, the mayor of Maakal Region – which includes the capital, Asmara – banned the bags from the city last week. “Anyone who has travelled around Eritrea has seen the effect they have,” he told IRIN. “They were everywhere. They have polluted the environment and were killing cows, goats and sheep.”

Mayor Semere said that the bags, which are imported from Dubai and Saudi Arabia, were also blocking water culverts around Asmara. “The culverts cost millions of dollars to build, yet they were being stopped from working effectively by these tiny plastic bags. It was affecting our water supply,” he said. “People were also putting their rubbish into these bags before throwing it away, so nothing was disintegrating naturally.”

Shoppers are now being encouraged to use other bags – such as the locally made, traditional straw baskets. Eritrean companies have been asked to produce alternative shopping bags, made from other fibres, such as cotton. Heavyweight plastic bags, which can be re-used, are still permitted.

Public reaction to the ban has mostly been positive. Many shops now wrap foodstuffs in paper, or ask customers to supply their own shopping bags. “It is a little more work for us,” said one Asmara shopkeeper. “But the bags were dangerous and ugly.”

Tecle Mariam, a senior environmental management expert at the ministry of land, water and the environment, said the ministry had been campaigning against the “flying bags”, as they are known, for two years. “We have been trying to tell people about the damage they cause through the radio, television and in newspapers,” he said.

A number of towns have already banned the bags, including Keren and Dekemhare, but the decision to outlaw them in Asmara is likely to be followed by other regions.

Tecle said his ministry, together with the ministry of education, was planning a programme to teach young Eritreans to keep their surroundings clean and to clear any rubbish and litter they saw in public areas.

“We want to introduce environmental studies to the school curriculum to teach the importance of good health and good environment,” he said. “School children must learn to be good citizens and that they have a stake in keeping their country clean.”

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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