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Plastic Ban In Mauritius

By Nicolas Richard and Annabelle Ribet

As from 15 January 2021, the Environment Protection (Control of Single Use Plastic Products) Regulations 2020 (the Regulations) came into operation and banned the importation, manufacture, possession, sale, supply and use of not less than 10 non-biodegradable single use plastic products. These restrictions form part of the Government’s 2020-2024 program to make Mauritius a plastic-free country.

 It is also worth noting that the Environment Protection (Banning of Plastic Bags) Regulations 2020 already came into operation on 1 March 2021 (the Plastic Bags Regulations). As a reminder, non-biodegradable plastic bags have been banned since 1 January 2016 under the Environment Protection (Banning of Plastic Bags) Regulations 2015. The new Plastic Bags Regulations will prohibit the manufacture, importation, distribution, possession, use and sale of new types of non-biodegradable plastic bags.

 With the introduction of these two regulations, Mauritius has taken a significant step to combat plastic pollution and marks a crucial milestone to support sustainable consumption.

Timeframe for implementation and moratorium

 Considering the ripple effects of the plastic ban on the industry, the Government considered worthwhile, via Cabinet decisions taken on 8 January 2021, to set more realistic timelines to implement these drastic but essential changes. The Regulations have nonetheless not yet been amended as at date.

 This decision has certainly been welcomed by players in the industry given the relatively short period of time required in the first place to adapt their production facilities to the new norms.

 In line with the Communiqué issued by the Ministry of Environment, Solid Waste Management and Climate Change on 13 January 2021, the timeframe for implementation of non-biodegradable and single use plastic products as well as new types of plastic bags is now as follows:

As from 15 January 2021
  • Plastic cutlery
  • Plastic plate
  • Plastic cup
  • Plastic bowl
  • Plastic trays/barquettes
  • Plastic beverage stirrer
  • Plastic hinged container
  • Plastic lid for single use plastic products
  • Receptacles of any shape, with or without lid, used to contain food intended for immediate consumption (either on the sport or take away and supplied by a food service business)
As from 1 March 2021
  • Roll-on bags
  • Pocket type bags commonly used for dholl-puris, candied fruit, among others
  • Bags carried by passengers disembarking at the airport or arriving at the port containing their purchases in duty-free shops
  • All such types of non-biodegradable plastic bags manufactured for export
As from 15 April 2021
  • Stand-alone non-biodegradable single use plastic straw and sealed plastic straws forming an integral part of the packaging of another product – “pailles individuelles et celles attachées aux briques de boissons
  • Plastic trays/barquette and plastic hinged containers forming an integral part of the packaging of another products (other than cooked or ready to be consumed food meant for immediate consumption) – “les plateaux en plastique et conteneurs à charnière utilisés pour l’emballage de produits frais, frigorifiés, précuits et cuits, tels que fruits, légumes, faratas, pâtisseries, viennoiseries, sandwich, entre autres
As from 15 January 2022
  • Non-biodegradable single use plastic bowls and cups used by the local food industry for packaging of fresh, pre-cooked/cooked food products – “les gobelets et bols jetables utilisés uniquement pour l'emballage de produits alimentaires, tels que les produits laitiers, yaourts, glaces et desserts”
  • Non-biodegradable single-use plastic trays used by the local food industry for packaging of fresh, pre-cooked/cooked food products – “les plateaux jetables utilisés uniquement pour le «Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP)» de produits alimentaires frais, cuits et précuits, tels que les viandes, charcuteries, burgers, fruits de mer et fromages”

As mentioned in the minutes of the Cabinet decisions dated 8 January 2021, the Government will also come forward with amendments to the Regulations so as to include a definition for “plastic bowl”, "plastic cup” and “plastic tray”. These additional definitions will also certainly bring clarity to the Regulations and dissipate any ambiguity, for instance regarding the definition of “plastic cup”. It is also expected that the Regulations will be amended to prohibit the importation of specific non-biodegradable single use plastic items as packaging of other products.

In the Communiqué issued by the Ministry of Environment, Solid Waste Management and Climate Change on 13 January 2021, the Ministry confirmed that it is working on an additional list of single-use non-biodegradable plastic products, which will be banned as from January 2022, as well as the regulations concerning PET (Polyethylene Terephtalate) bottles and other containers for soft drinks, water, juices and other products such as dairy products, sauces, ketchup and vinegar, among others.

Importation and manufacture

In terms of recyclable/eco-friendly alternatives, biodegradable single-use products under the Regulations can be imported or manufactured locally provided that the person is registered with the Mauritius Revenue Authority (MRA). Importers and manufacturers thus have the obligation, since 15 January 2021, to be registered in order to be compliant with the new regulatory framework.

For importation, clearance from the MRA is also required. The certificate issued by the MRA will be valid for a period of 3 years upon payment of a fee of Rs 10,000.

The Regulations also specify that the MRA will not be entitled to release a biodegradable single-use product unless a sample of the product is tested by an approved laboratory. 

With the implementation of environmental standards for plastic products, small entrepreneurs will inevitably have to adapt their business practices to the new legislative framework. However, the possibility that numerous small manufacturing units may unfortunately be forced to close as a result of the ban cannot be ignored. The Government could potentially consider financing instruments such as soft loans or grants to enable small enterprises to manufacture eco-friendly alternatives.

Sanctions and implementation

It is also important to point out that any person which contravenes the Regulations may be liable to the following sanctions:

 

First conviction

Second or subsequent conviction

Possession or use, other than for the purpose of trade

Fine not exceeding Rs 2,000

Fine not exceeding Rs 5,000

Possession or use for the purpose of trade, sale or supply

Fine not exceeding Rs 20,000

Fine not exceeding Rs 100,000 and imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months (alternatively or cumulatively)

Importation

Fine not exceeding Rs 50,000

Fine not exceeding Rs 100,000 and imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years

Manufacturing

Fine not exceeding Rs 100,000

Fine not exceeding RS 250,000 and imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years

Whilst putting into place a new legislative framework to ban plastic is certainly a welcomed step, there is no certainty that the usage of banned plastic items will not continue (although at a lower scale) without an effective enforcement and implementation process. The Government thus has a very important role in ensuring that the ban is actually enforced and sanctions imposed as and when required.

In addition, whilst the Regulations provide for different types of fines to be imposed, certain issues remain unclear. In terms of importation, the question arises as to whether each commercial transaction is considered as a separate violation, thus implying that the penalties could add-up. For importers/manufacturers who continue to violate the ban, will there be any specific revocation/suspension of registration and denial of renewal application?

In terms of alternatives to the adoption of a sanction-based approach, governments all over the world have put into place several methods to encourage stakeholders, such as the imposition of a tax rebate and green tax for single-use plastic products, as part of a broader strategy toward more sustainable production.

Practical issues

Whilst plastic usage is indeed a very serious concern, it is also paramount to ensure that plastic is recycled properly. There should be equal focus on treatment and disposal of plastic waste.

In its Communiqué, the Ministry informed members of the public that in order to dispose of and eventually recycle all banned single-use plastic products and plastic bags, temporary facilities have been put in place by local authorities.

Cabinet has subsequently agreed via decision taken on 11 February 2021, to the introduction of new policies for the management of post-consumer PET bottles and PET containers generated by the beverage and food industries. The Minister of Environment, Kavi Ramano also announced at a press conference that they will prohibit the manufacture, import, marketing and production of plastic bottles of less than 1 liter and that the introduction of a deposit-refund system is envisaged. 

Considering that most of plastic bottles are disposed at Mare Chicose for landfilling (which almost reached saturation point), the proper implementation of this deposit-refund mechanism would certainly be highly welcomed. This method would not only incentivise consumers to recycle plastic bottles, but it also has the potential to create new industries and job opportunities to process these materials. However, many uncertainties/questions arise:

  • The amount of the deposit per bottle and how the collection will be organised is not yet known.
  • Consumers will pay a few rupees more for their plastic bottles but won’t necessarily bring them back. In this case, economic operators in the industry could potentially make undue profits.
  • More generally, what about a “mixed deposit” facility where other recyclable products such as cans and other metal packaging could be collected at the same time?

Treatment/disposal capacities in Mauritius nonetheless seem to be inadequate to address recycling of plastic waste. Concerns may also revolve around the lack of comprehensive plan addressing plastic across its life cycle and suitable plastic waste management systems.

Once more, incentives could play a crucial role in attracting the interest of innovators and the private sector to come up with effective solutions for plastic waste management. The Government could develop a partnership with the industry for the recycling on a large scale – this has been suggested by one of the leading players in the beverage industry, specifically in terms of waste PET bottles which are a major source of pollution. PET bottle crushing machines could also be supplied and installed at various locations across the country.

Despite such noble initiatives, elimination of plastic nonetheless remains a complex task given the extent to which it has infiltrated our lives. Our collective fight against plastic pollution has only just begun.

This article was published in the Business Magazine Mauritius on 03 March 2021.

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