Benin is the latest country in Africa to ban any plastic bags that aren’t biodegradable. In anticipation of the ban, which goes into effect on August 1, 2018, an NGO has launched an alternative that is durable, inexpensive and easy to make. They hope to convince street vendors, who use lots of plastic bags.

The Beninese National Assembly voted in a law that would ban the production, importation, exportation, commercialisation, distribution, utilisation and safeguarding of non-biodegradable plastic bags.

When the law goes into effect in August, companies who break the law by producing or importing bags could be fined between 10 and 20 million CFA francs (15,000 to 30,000 euros) and sent to prison for three to six months.

Shops are already offering alternatives like biodegradable bags imported from places as far away as Turkey.

But our Observer Henri Totin, president of an NGO called Jevev, an environmental organisation based in the Ouémé Valley, has decided to promote a local alternative that is cheap and easy to make – recycled plastic bags. Currently, ten volunteers work together to make about 200 bags a day.

"Recycling is a way to provide cheap bags to low-income traders”

While the ban was under debate in the Assembly, we went to the 2017 United Nations Climate Change Conference, where we saw lots of innovative biodegradable bags.

When we got back to Benin, we decided to create our own. We got inspiration from traditional methods of carrying food, using, for example, banana leaves, teak or newspaper.


Cleaning and sanitizing the paper is an important step in the recycling process.

We decided to make our bags out of used paper. One of our main sources is paper bags used to carry cement.


Our Observer filmed the transformation process:
 


Recycling means that we can save money on our primary materials and, thus, offer a cheaper product to vendors with little means. Hawkers and market traders use thousands of plastic bags per year to wrap up their products and our streets are filled with plastic. In August, they will have to change their behaviour and we want to help them do it.

Several women, including some street vendors, pose after a workshop led by Jevev.
 
Several other African countries banned plastic bags before Benin, including Kenya, Senegal, Gabon, Cameroon, Togo, Burkina Faso, Mali, Ivory Coast, Rwanda and Morocco, according to a list compiled by Geopolis.
 

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