Banning single-use plastic bags

A major step in environmental efforts

June 14, 2024

For the past two years, shoppers were already bringing their reusable bags which significantly reduced single-use plastic pollution, thanks to the Phatsa Sakho Nawe campaign.

UNDP/Gonzalo Bell

As the world grapples with the urgent need to combat plastic pollution, Eswatini has joined the list of countries that have banned single-use plastic bags. This landmark decision announced by the Minister of Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Hon. Jane Mkhonta-Simelane, is exciting to UNDP and the global community for two reasons:

  • The timing is crucial; coinciding with the conclusion of the fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) dedicated to crafting a global legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, particularly in marine environments (INC-4), held from 23 to 29 April. The aim is to secure an agreement by the close of 2024. The negotiation process for a Global Plastic Treaty began with high hopes, but at the fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-4), it became evident that a true battle lay ahead, and an outcome was far from guaranteed. With one more scheduled INC meeting to develop an international legally binding instrument (ILBI) on plastic pollution, the urgency to reach an agreement is palpable. 

Nevertheless, numerous nations are making significant strides, both large and small, in combatting plastic pollution, exemplified by Eswatini's recent prohibition of single-use plastic bags. At the regional level, these global negotiations follow some strides that many African countries have made to solve the plastic pollution challenge. In November 2019 the 17th session of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment, the Durban Declaration incorporated the first collective statement of support from all African Environment Ministers for global action to address plastic pollution including the call for a new global agreement. Some African countries are calling on the AU to lead on a regional protocol banning single-use plastic. The step taken by Eswatini underlies the seriousness with which it regards the need to protect the environment and the livelihoods of its people. 

Small businesses owned by women generated income from making reusable bags during the Patsa Sakho Nawe campaign.

UNDP/Gonzalo Bell
  • At UNDP Eswatini, we are especially enthusiastic about this development because of the significant contribution we've undertaken towards the elimination of single-use plastic waste through our Accelerator Lab. Our efforts haven't merely focused on raising awareness; we've actively co-created alternative solutions to combat single-use plastic bags. The "Phatsa Sakho Nawe" Campaign, executed in collaboration with the Eswatini Environment Authority, the Ministry of Tourism and Environmental Affairs, and the five major supermarkets, piloted a partial ban and assessed a scenario where single-use plastic bags were unavailable in stores. The campaign was launched in December 2020 and scheduled to run for three months but was later extended, ultimately lasting for two years and being joined by large and small retail outlets because of the significant reduction of plastic pollution in the country.

Throughout the campaign, we witnessed how small businesses, particularly those owned by women, started producing alternative shopping bags, primarily using textile waste from Matsapha Industrial site where at least 105 tonnes of textile waste is generated monthly, presenting yet another environmental challenge that demands attention. We saw these small businesses growing producing other products such as undergarments using the textile waste. 

The initiative also garnered positive feedback from livestock farmers who noticed a decline in the mortality rates from animals ingesting plastic bags littering their rangelands. Furthermore, we observed some plastic producers proactively adjusting their production lines in anticipation of forthcoming plastic bag regulations. Additionally, EEA reported a 60% reduction in single-use plastic bag distribution in the country, a significant step toward enhancing the visual appeal of our environment. 

Reducing single-use plastic bag pollution keeps the environment clean and prevents reduces the high livestock mortality rate resulting from ingesting plastic bags.

UNDP/Mantoe Phakathi

Therefore, UNDP commends the Government of the Kingdom of Eswatini for this bold and progressive decision to ban all single-use plastic carrier bags.  This landmark move is significant because as the UNDP Chemicals and Waste Hub notes plastic pollution:

  • Drives nature loss and destroys important ecosystems.

  • Fuels the climate crisis.

  • Threatens human health.

As a result, the Hub supports governments to intervene through:

  • Policy and regulation 

  • Innovation and technology 

  • Waste management 

  • Capacity development and knowledge management 

The Acc Lab supports UNDP Country Offices in designing and implementing innovative solutions to address challenges that governments face such as plastic pollution. UNDP Eswatini Acc Lab is proud to have played such a significant role in the elimination of single-use plastic pollution in the kingdom.