Putting Research to Work: Brown Paper Bag

In January 2015, The Hague Institute initiated new field work in Zanzibar. As part of the ‘Governance of Climate Adaptation in Small Island Developing States’ project, carried out under the Conflict Prevention Program, researcher Sieske Valk will spend 10 months collecting data and co-organizing multi-level stakeholder discussions to address best practices on the governance of climate adaptation in Zanzibar.

In the first part of the project, Sieske is co-authoring a baseline assessment of the vulnerabilities and Climate Change perceptions in Zanzibari society. Insights from this will be then used to organize Participatory Planning workshops on devising local climate action plans at several locations.

Sieske will contribute short bi-monthly blogs for The Hague Institute to illustrate impact and progress of the field work. These could be followed on social media using the hashtag, #Research2Work. This is her first blog entry:

Brown paper bags (BPB) are Zanzibar’s newest, not so guilty, pleasure. You buy groceries; you get a brown paper bag. You buy a souvenir; it’s also wrapped in a brown paper bag. You carry your own BPB for shopping; it’s inevitable this too gets wrapped in one of these paper wonders, just in case one is not enough.

Due to a long-awaited law, the Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar adopted in 2011 a ban on plastic bags in the country in order to protect the delicate (marine) environment which is crucial for Zanzibar’s tourism industry.

Today, you don’t get your groceries in a flimsy plastic bag which rips apart the moment you lift it. You don’t see small pieces of plastic floating around with every gust of wind. The fish have probably got relatively plastic free stomachs. And the piles of trash being burned by the side of the road in the morning mainly comprise organic waste, down-cycled BPBs used as trash bins (whether they were made of recycled paper in the first place is unknown) and … plastic bottles.

Everything is brown paper bag over here and this has even created a new market: men hassling you during shopping to buy a recycled canvas tote, waving their goods enthusiastically in front of your eyes, even when they see you already have one.

But what if I feel like being defiant and prefer to use Hollands’ favorite supermarket plastic bags? I brought from home and it turns out there is actually a big fine on the manufacturing, import and sale of any plastic bags. Furthermore, if I use this blue-and-white plastic bag in public, I could be fined between €15 and €23, with an optional imprisonment of six months. Talk about hard measures.

However, these new rules have helped. On the market, you see everybody walking around with shoppers made of straw or raffia bags, the ones I always thought were made for tourists only, filled with groceries double-wrapped in BPBs. And you never see anyone using plastic bags, apart from the occasional sandwich bags (boterhamzakjes in Dutch). Maybe it doesn’t count as a plastic bag when you cannot fit in a coconut?

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