Huge stocks of plastic packaging are now pouring into Cameroon from Calabar in Nigeria through the Tiko Wharf in Fako Division, Southwest Region.
By Regina Leke
“We no longer complain too much about the absence of plastic packaging. After the ban, it was hard to find plastic wrappings because Cameroonian companies stopped producing them. However, we have been getting all the different types of plastics from Nigeria,” said Nkefua Peter, a dealer in plastic packaging.
A government ban on the production and use of non-biodegradable plastic wrapping that went into effect on April 24, 2014 had left customers as well as traders with little choice of wrapping material. Matters were made worse when government discovered that local companies were not capable of producing bio-degradable plastic packaging thereby, opening up inlets for fake plastic wrapping. Faced with this dilemma, traders have turned to the window in next-door Nigeria for supplies of plastic wrappings.
Nkefua told The Green Vision that he buys plastic wrappings from a woman in Mile 16, Buea, who purchases massive stocks from Calabar to supply to market women.
“Isn’t it funny the kind of decisions our government makes? Now Nigeria is making huge sums of money out of Cameroon because the demand for plastic wrapping in Cameroon is quite high,” said Nkefua.
The plastic packaging from Nigeria is coming at a high price though.
“I used to buy a packet of the yellow-black stripe wrappings at 16.000 frs cfa in Douala, but now, I buy them at 28.000 frs. Cfa. But I cannot complain because, at least, I have plastics to sell unlike before. I transfer the cost to my customers who buy to sell to their clients,” Nkefua said. The trader said plastic wrappings produced in Cameroon are thicker and weigh above 60 microms as recommended by the government.
“We have the plastics, but people do not buy them because they are too thick and strong and difficult to package items in them. With the coming of these lighter plastics from Nigeria no one even looks at the ones made in Cameroon,” Nkefua told The Green Vision.
Local Companies Coping
Meanwhile, Cameroonian plastic companies told The Green Vision that they are coping with the ban.
The Director in Charge of Plastics at PLASTICAM, Gustav Eyango, said contrary to some media reports that they had gone out of business, his company is coping quite well with the ban on plastics.
“Following the joint Ministerial decree of October 2012 of Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Commerce, we were not supposed to produce non-biodegradable plastics or plastics less than 60 microms from April 24, 2014. So we had been holding sessions with our clients most of whom are companies to tell them we need to adapt to the decision. It is true producing the heavier plastics is more expensive but our clients had to adapt because they had no choice,” Eyango said.
The Director explained that there are really no machines specialized in producing plastics less than or more than 60 microms.
“All machines can produce plastics of less than 60 microms and more than 60 microms. It is just about adjusting the amount of chemical you use to come out with the microm you need. In addition, we do not produce for the public market; we produce mostly for companies so it was easy to adjust their packages to be above 60 microm,” Eyango told The Green Vision. He added that the environmental permit from the Ministry of Environment which allows them to produce plastics above 60 microms also warrants them to show how the plastics produced will be disposed of.
“The permit insists that we [should] have a plan of how we intend to recycle the plastics. This is not really a problem because we have an understanding with all our clients. Once we deliver the package, it is now the responsibility of the client to recycle the plastics,” said Eyango, adding, “people need to be sensitized to properly discard the new plastics. The fact that they are heavier does not mean they are not dangerous to the environment. The advantage is that such plastics can be re-used so it reduces the nuisance of plastics littering the streets. The government needs to put in place a system on how to retrieve plastics from the public. If that is not done we will go back to the same problem.”
He even advised that some NGOs could be created to reclaim plastics from the streets and give to recycling companies, which would also created jobs.
An official of OK Plast, another plastic producing company in Douala, told The Green Vision that they too have adapted to producing plastics above 60 microms.
“We had prepared ourselves before the ban so production is going on smoothly,” said the official. That notwithstanding, the increase in the cost of production of plastics above 60 microms has affected the customers of some companies.
“CDC Banana has always been one of our biggest clients. We prepared a new pro-forma invoice on plastics weighing above 60 microms and it has not yet reacted. We do not know if it is the new costing which is higher than the previous one that scared them,” said Andre Tientcheu, Marketing Manager of PLASTICAM.
He said other clients like Nestle and Brasseries du Cameroon have adapted to their new prices for the production of plastic above 60 microms.
Plastic Problem Postponed
Despite the ‘struggle’ to purge the Cameroon environment of plastics, some experts say producing plastics above 60 microms still does not solve the problem of non-biodegradability.
“In Cameroon, all we do is postpone our problems. Producing plastics above 60 microms has not solved any problem because these plastics, no matter how heavy they are, will still find themselves in the environment and pose threats to the soil, water and even to animal life as we know,” said Njumbe Peter, an environmental management specialist.
He said if the government does not come up with a clear plan on how she is going to retrieve these plastics and recycle them, then the term permitting plastics of more than 60 microms will just be playing with words and the problem will still remain unsolved.