Plastic bag import clampdown leading to local manufacture

High government import taxes on plastic bags, intended to reduce their use, has prompted some businesses in the country to manufacture their own plastic bags.

While a 200 per cent duty import duty is levied on plastic bags, the import duty for raw materials is 25 per cent.

The manager of a popular bakery in Male’ told Minivan News that the store had a machine able to produce 45,000 to 50,000 plastic bags everyday.

He added that the bags were produced for their own use and were not for sale.

“We cannot use paper bags to pack bread,” he said. ”I do not think that it is done anywhere in the world.”

Moreover, he said, the bakery had been producing plastic bags for ten years now.

”We do not have any permission from the environment ministry,” he said. ”We did not ask for permission because we use it for our own purpose,”

He said the company imported raw materials needed to produce plastic bags.

“We sometimes produce blue color plastic bags also, we can do any color we want,”‘ he said. “We import the raw materials mainly from Dubai and Saudi Arabia.”

However, an employee in an office located behind the bakery told Minivan News that he and his colleagues were “unable to work” whenever the machine was being operated, because of the toxic fumes.

”When they turn it on, a smell like paint thinner spreads through the whole area,” he said. “We get headaches, feel like vomiting and experience difficulty breathing when the fumes reach us.”‘

Everyone in the area faced the problem, he claimed.

”The substances they uses are very toxic,” he said. ”That’s why we feel ill when the fumes are released.”

Deputy Environment Minister Mohamed Shareef said that there were two companies permitted to produce plastic bags in the Maldives.

‘There will be no company permitted in Male’,” Shareef said. ”We give the permission after conducting an environment inspection survey.”

Shareef said that the government was trying to completely ban plastic bags in the Maldives.

”We are trying to make a law to ban the importation and production of plastic bags,” he said.

Shareef concurred that the fumes released when producing plastic bag contained toxic substances.

Head of Environmental NGO Bluepeace, Ali Rilwan, said that although the government’s 200 per cent tax on plastic bags was intended to discourage people from using it ”now they have started to bring in raw materials and establish factories.”

Rilwan said that the manufacture of plastic bags in a residential area poses health risks.

”People living near the bakery complain that they can’t breathe when the machine is on,” he said.