Government’s controversial ban on the use of kaylite caught manufacturers and the fast food industry unawares as the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) had recently endorsed their waste management plan, Standardbusiness has learnt.
BY TATIRA ZWINOIRA
According to the chairperson of the Zimbabwe Polystyrene Packaging Council (ZPPC), an organisation representing kaylite manufacturers in Zimbabwe, Melody Frank, EMA had given the plan the nod.
The plan was drawn up by Versa Pack, Planas Trading and Wow Pack Pvt Ltd. South Africa-based Versa Pack was the biggest kaylite player in Zimbabwe, but they closed down in November 2016 due to economic challenges
“The plan was to erase our footprint, as in try and pick up ourselves, to buy back our products as much as we possibly could,” Frank said.
“We had people, community-based organisations, which were picking up kaylites in both high and low-density areas.
“They would pick them up, come back and sell to us by the kilogramme.
“Of course, I do not deny we may have not run it the best way possible but one of the members then shut down, which is Versa Pack, last year in November,” she said.
“They had been operating in this country for 26 years so they shut down and they contributed a large amount of our funding, so we were not able to work according to how we should have worked.
“But, we were following our proposal none the less. We also had a lot of people importing the product and those were free riders who were not contributing to the waste management plan we gave to the ministry.”
Frank said the plan was supposed to be rolled over a three-year period.
“It was a three-year plan,” she said.
“We were going to get a pyrolysis machine [recycling machine] which was going to recycle our kaylites and make other products and research was actually done with what we were going to do with the kaylite that we would have collected.”
The government invoked Statutory Instrument (SI) 84 of 2012 two weeks ago, banning the manufacturing or importation of polystyrene (kaylite) plastic for commercial distribution within Zimbabwe.
It cited research suggesting kaylites posed serious health risks.
However, EMA has given a three-month reprieve to kaylite manufacturers and the fast food industry.
EMA education and publicity officer Steady Kangata said a study by the University of Zimbabwe revealed that kaylites which are used by many restaurants and food vendors to package meals and beverages, releases styrene gas that causes cancer when burnt or heated.
“Environmental impacts of kaylite include that it is not biodegradable and takes up to 500 years to disintegrate; it is 95% air and 5% plastic and hence ultra-light and contributes to littering, blocks storm drains and water reticulation, not economical to recycle, and when burnt it produces fumes that contain styrene gas which is a carcinogen,” he said.
But kaylite distributor Forceberg Enterprises Pvt Ltd wrote a letter dated July 13 to the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate, Prince Mupazviriho questioning the health findings.
“Please allow us to point out the following critical issues in relation to polystyrene as a product, which we consider facts that otherwise may have not been considered, if not overlooked:
“Polystyrene is 100% recyclable. This has been done the world over, reference is made to neighbouring South Africa and you may please refer to [research cited],” Forceberg director Farai Gatsi said in the letter.
“Polystyrene, once recycled, can actually be used as raw material to manufacture other products such as park benches, curtain rails, among others (these are the same products we import from other countries).
“You will, therefore, notice that recycling polystyrene will help create down-stream employment in the subsequent industries.”
Gatsi added that: “In view of the above, it is our fervent hope that you will, at the very least, consider our request and perhaps allow for more dialogue and procedural fairness to take place by perhaps granting us an opportunity to give you our side of the story”.
He asked for further talks on the matter as his employees’ jobs were now on the line.
The kaylite ban means production costs for kaylite manufacturers will go up, leading to uncompetitive pricing and therefore a decline in sales.
Frank, who is also the sales and marketing head of Planas, said it costs about 3 to 4 cents to make a kaylite pack while the recommended replacements of hard recyclable plastic cost between 16 and 22 cents.
She said this would be significant for Planas since they were producing an average 45 000 kaylite bales per month, with each bale holding about 500 or 1 000 packs.
Planas is now the biggest kaylite manufacturer in Zimbabwe.
For the fast food industry, the cost is dependent on the availability of the raw materials needed in making the alternative packaging, as explained by Simbisa Holdings CEO Warren Meares.
“On average, a kaylite package costs about 7 and 8 cents per pack while the proposed card board pack costs between 10 and 12 cents but we are working with local suppliers to bring that cost down and get the correct raw materials into the country,” he said.
“We are trying to bring that closer to what it would cost to bring a kaylite box but having it made locally.
“When you are looking at food, you want a card board box that does not absorb the moisture of the food and becomes wet when you are carrying it.
“That wax that you get that stops the box from absorbing, you need those raw materials to come in and within the next three months you will see a roll out of the card box throughout the country at Chicken Inn.”
He said their company would not change their food prices.
Simbisa has a 70% market share in the fast food industry in Zimbabwe.
If Simbisa fails to reach an agreement with suppliers, they would be forced to import and incur duty of somewhere around 25% or 30% plus $1 per kg.
Simbisa buys about two million of the kaylite packs per month.