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South Africa hints at easing plastic carrier-bag ban

South Africa hints at easing plastic carrier-bag ban
JOHANNESBURG - The South African government hinted yesterday it would ease a ban on environmentally unfriendly thin plastic bags, less than four months before it hosts the World Summit on Sustainable Development.
The government\'s possible relaxation on enforcing thicker, recyclabe plastic bags comes in the face of fierce resistance from the packaging and retail industries, which complained a ban would hurt profits and result in job losses. A spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Affairs said revised regulations would be issued soon, but would not give details of the new deal. \"We are promulgating new regulations very soon, and the regulations are very flexible and accommodating...it was never our intention to make life difficult for business,\" spokeswoman Phindile Makwakwa told Reuters. \"The purpose behind the ban of a thin plastic bag is to deal with the problem of litter... we found that thin plastic bags are of poor quality for reclycling,\" she added. But retailers complained that the new technology needed to make thicker bags would require substantial financial outlays and result in job losses and higher prices for consumers. But environmentalists are unhappy at the government\'s apparent change of heart. \"Does this mean other legislation and regulation would be changed because of pressure from the industry,\" said Bobby Peek, a spokesman for the South African environmental organisation Groundwork. The Cabinet\'s ban in November last year prohibited the distribution of plastic grocery bags thinner than 80 micrometers, compared to the current 14 micrometers used by many retailers. The ban was due to be effective from January, 2003. Leading food retailer Pick \'n Pay , which lobbied against the ban, said a ban would push up its packaging costs to 500 million rand a year, from a current 60 to 70 million rand. \"We would certainly welcome any move by the government to consider the proposal we put to them. We believe that if government and commerce work hand in hand, a solution can be found,\" said Sean Summers, Pick \'n Pay\'s CEO. \"If they had gone ahead with their original plans it would have had a serious effect.\" South Africa is hosting the World Summit on Sustainable Development from August 26 to September 4 this year in a follow up meeting to the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. The summit aims to hammer out a concrete action plan to pull people out of poverty without inflicting permanent damage on the environment. Story by Andile Ntingi REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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