Eritrea bans plastic bags

Asmara - Parts of Eritrea once littered by a sea of flimsy shopping bags are being cleaned up thanks to a new law that entered into force in January to help the Horn of Africa country protect nature.

In the capital Asmara and other outlying regions, the bags have been replaced by the cotton and nylon and Eritreans have no choice but to adapt to instead.

Since January, "those who import, produce, distribute or sell plastic bags are fined", said Wolde Yohannes, the head of environment wing in the ministry of land, water and environment.

Wolde did not give the amount of the fine, but several sources estimated that offenders can pay several thousands of nakfa.

Since a dollar here is worth 15 nakfa, such fines are hefty in the country where, according to an International Monetary Fund report, annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita is $130.

Authorities here are indeed determined to stem the problem.

Individuals are not fined if they are caught with a plastic bag. They simply have to tell the authorities where they got the bag from, explained Wolde.

"If we find that individuals don't co-operate, they could also be fined," said Kibrom Asmarom, an official in the environment department.

Kibrom expressed satisfaction on people's respect on the law, nevertheless.

Authorities had a raft of reasons for declaring war on the flimsy bags that not only block gutters and drains, choke farm animals and marine wildlife, pollute the soil, but also ruin dramatic natural vistas and can take 20 to 1 00 years to decompose.

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