In 2002, Bangladesh became the first country in the world to ban the use of plastic bags. Several nations have since followed suit, even though restrictive measures have, at best, achieved mixed success overall in limiting plastic usage. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), by 2018, 127 countries have "enacted some form of national legislation to address the problem of plastic bags". And, after a UN Environment Assembly at Nairobi in 2019, 170 countries have vowed to "significantly reduce" the use of plastic.
The African continent seems to be at the forefront of this global battle against plastics. According to a Quartz report, 34 African nations—Tanzania, Kenya, Mali, Cameroon, Uganda, Ethiopia, Malawi, Morocco, South Africa, Rwanda, Botswana, among others—have imposed full or partial bans or heavy taxes on plastic products.
In particular, Tanzania's fight against plastic pollution has been inspirational. In June 2019, the country, which then generated approximately 3,50,000 tonnes of plastic waste, banned the sale, manufacture, import, export, supply and use of plastic bags in the mainland. A hefty fine, to the tune of up to 20 million Tanzanian shillings, was also imposed in case of any violation, while the use of alternative , eco-friendly products was handsomely promoted. Furthermore, travellers to Tanzania were also prohibited from bringing plastic carry bags into the country, and they would need to deposit any such items at designated check-in areas close to airport entry points. The only exception would be ziplock bags for personal belongings—that too, as long as the people carried them out of the country on their way out.
Such stringent measures go a long way to combat the menace of plastic, whose products stay around for anywhere between 10 to 1,000 years depending on their nature and where they are disposed. The global travel and tourism industry still remains one of the major culprits, when it comes to plastic pollution. In 2018, for instance, Thomas Cook, a major British tour operator, said that it would remove 70 million single-use plastic items (the equivalent of filling 3,500 suitcases) generated by travel-related operations. That same year, the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) found out that more than 200 million visitors coming to the Mediterranean every year caused a staggering 40% increase in plastic pollution in the sea.
In light of such dire statistics and circumstances, the case for embracing sustainable, responsible and eco-friendly modes of travel grows even stronger. And, seen in this light, the steps taken by Africa's many nations to fight plastic pollution need to be lauded and appreciated. As responsible tourists, the least we can do to honour and respect their conscious choices is to firmly abstain from carrying any form of plastic (or its many products) to the continent when we visit it.