Morocco: Promoting responsible alternatives to guarantee the success of the ban on plastic bags and prevention of marine litter.
Single-use plastic bags rank among the most frequent litter items found across the Mediterranean sea and shoreline. The negative impacts go beyond the ecological ones (including ingestion and suffocation of emblematic species such as the sperm whale) and affect the image of the country, thus damaging important economic sectors such as tourism. Plastic bags have become an icon of plastic pollution and the fight against it, and thus around 60 countries have introduced policies to tackle them. At the regional level, the Barcelona Convention, through the Regional Plan on Marine Litter Management in the Mediterranean, specifically considers this marine litter item. Morocco opted for a strict ban on production, import, sale and distribution of single-use plastic bags through the law 77-15, effective since July 2016. Although the number of these plastic bags may have been dramatically reduced, there is an overlaying informal market of bags that threats achievements made so far.
In order to find out and respond to the reasons behind this situation, SwitchMed funded the association Zero Zbel to conduct an awareness campaign in Moroccan markets, addressing both consumers and shopkeepers. The campaign, named “Kofa Mon Amour” (“My Beloved Basket”), included a large survey to find out about shopping habits and constraints to phase out plastic bags. Equipped with explanatory fact-sheets, t-shirts and alternatives to single-use plastic bags, Zero Zbel members covered 8 markets in the cities of Casablanca, Agadir and Tetouan and interviewed 235 people who received a reusable bag as a reward.
Despite the law enforcement, the survey reports that 49% of respondents believe that the consumption of plastic bags has remained the same or increased. 60% of merchants say that 80% of their customers demand plastic bags. Another worrying fact is that 65% of customers say they use between 5 and 15 plastic bags each time they shop. “Some people refuse to bring reusable bags because it is not practical, and unless they find them on the spot at a reasonable price, they use plastic bags,” says Jamal Kamali from Zero Zbel.
The survey also points to the price of plastic bags. For example, 88% of merchants consider that the price of plastic bags has increased since the law came into force. "Shopkeepers are directly impacted by the misapplication of the law because plastic bags are more expensive to buy and are still distributed to customers for free," says Zero Zbel.
Thus, as long as plastic bags continue to be sold and distributed illegally, it will be very difficult for consumers to change their habits. Traders are caught between the plastic bags ban and consumers who know that plastic bags are still available and continue to demand them.
The release of Zero Zbel’s survey was followed by a communication by the Ministry of Industry, in charge of this bill. "The demand for alternative products has increased considerably and the supply by businesses has kept pace," said the department of Moulay Hafid Elalamy in a statement released July 1st. The same source claims that the production of non-woven bags increased from 1.8 to 3.2 billion bags and that of bags woven from 1 to 1.2 billion bags during the second year of the law implementation. However, it seems reasonable that the solution is not only to replace conventional plastic bags by non-woven bags, which are still made out of plastic. One of the respondents stated that “plastic bags have not been banned, they have simply been beautified”. And the problem gets worse when these bags are being produced thinner over time to save production costs, which jeopardizes reusability. For this reason, the Ministry is working on a legal text to define minimum requirements of these bags.
Moreover, in order to address the issues raised by Zero Zbel, the Ministry of Industry plans to revise the law. "We are working on a revision of the law so that the process of banning plastic bags can be smoother and harder. It's coming soon".
“A national education effort is needed to promote the many available alternatives, and to allow cultural change to get rid of the disposable bag culture”, says Mamoun Ghallab from Zero Zbel. There is also a particular need to promote alternatives to buy products in bulk such as meat and spices, which are considered a real problem by consumers and traders. To this aim, and as a result of this experience, SwitchMed has released an engaging catalogue on alternatives to single-use plastic bag: The heroes of the Mediterranean disembark against single-use plastics.
As the adage goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating! For this reason, SwitchMed funded the Docteur Fatiha association (ADF) to design and produce responsible alternatives to single-use plastic bags to be used for daily shopping. The association is led by Faiza Hajji, a Moroccan entrepreneur woman committed with sustainability and particularly in fighting against marine litter. In fact, she became famous by eradicating plastic bags from a neighbourhood in Berkane (North-East Morocco) thanks to an initiative involving women cooperative. They reused this plastic (more than 54.000 plastic bags since 2016!) to elaborate beautiful fashion accessories and decoration items. This way, the Ifassen brand was born.
With the support of SwitchMed, the initiative has gone one step further. As shown in the survey, the lack of convenient alternatives jeopardizes proper eradication of plastic bags. ADF used human centred design technique to come up with a robust alternative: reusable and reused shopping bags. The basic material is flour sacks (made out of polypropylene), which is folded inwards on its half-length, and it’s completed with two different size strings to carry it conveniently on your shoulder or in your hand. It has a considerable capacity and it’s easily folded using a rubber band, so you can even keep it in your pocket.
To make this possible, two trainings were organized benefitting 25 women and aimed at reaching a high-quality finish and proper confection rapidity. 1000 units have been produced, out which 200 were distributed at the occasion of markets surveys. The other units were used to raise awareness in Berkane and as part of the commercialization and promotion efforts.
Despite a general positive feedback on the product, there is a key aspect to make it a true success story: access to the market. For this, the association ran a survey to know shops and customers views on the product, including a willingness to pay analysis. Furthermore, 5 shops participated in a one-month test in which they distributed for free these bags to customers, who would get a discount on their shopping when coming back with it. Another action line is the sought of sponsors so the price could be reduced. The objective is to sell these bags for 10 dirham (approx. 0,9 euro).
Furthermore, these creative women are producing embroidery accessory bags. With SwitchMed support, the design has been enhanced. A pre-sale campaign will serve to raise funds to continuously improve the products. Customers will also receive a reusable-reused bag as a present.
These experiences supported by SwitchMed show that Moroccan ban on plastic bags could be turned into an economic opportunity for entrepreneurs who are willing and ready to put convenient and affordable alternatives in the market.