What's next for Renew Our World in Malawi?

We’ve heard recently of Malawi’s inspiring plastic bag ban win and their incredible work harnessing people power for environmental change.

The Malawi Creation Care Network, a collaboration of churches and non-governmental organisations and leader of Renew Our World in Malawi, played a key role in securing this ban on thin plastic bags.

What’s next for Renew Our World in this country fondly called the warm heart of Africa?

Read the hopes and prayers of activist and ecology lecturer, Dr Tiwonge Mzumara-Gawa, and National Coordinator for the Malawi Creation Care Network, Charles Bakolo.

 

  1. Implementation of the ban

 

After championing the momentous decision by Malawi’s Supreme Court of Appeal to uphold the government’s ban on all thin plastic manufacture, import, distribution and use, the aim of the Malawi Creation Care Network is now to hold the government to account on these changes. 

Now our prayer is to see one thing: to have the ban implemented,” Dr Tiwonge Mzumara-Gawa declares. “Our hope is that we can target the specific policies that are now in place to ensure they are being implemented. We also hope and pray that the government will be honest in dealing with people and companies that are not complying with this ban.

“There has been a six month grace period, then this year, the Environmental Affairs Department will start visiting companies to ensure they have closed or changed their equipment and products, and also visiting the markets. So this year is about implementation. We as a network will be watching to see that the ban is in place and the government is doing what it’s supposed to do. We’re really hoping to hold them accountable in that.”

With the grace period coming to an end, Charles Bakolo is optimistic that the ban will be effective. 

“Change takes time, but we have already seen places adopting the ban,” Charles shares. “For example, in the markets they are no longer using the blue, thin plastic bags that we have banned. Even if we are moving slowly, the factories that had been producing thin plastic have been stopped. I feel that in the next two years, plastics will be completely out of the markets.”

The Malawi Creation Care Network doesn’t plan to stop there. 

“In our strategy, we want to completely ban all single-use plastics in Malawi,” says Charles with passion. “That is our prayer.”

 

2. Engaging the Church on environmental issues 

 

In many Malawian churches, environmental issues are not commonly addressed. The Malawi Creation Care Network is hoping to change that. 

“Malawi is largely a Christian country,” explains Dr Tiwonge. “A lot of people go to church. It’s a huge part of society. However, issues of the environment are not often spoken about from the pulpit. When they are on the pulpit, it’s only about tree planting. There’s much more traction with tree planting than with other things like waste.”

“We are the custodians of God’s creation,” says Charles. “Genesis 2:15 says that God gave man the responsibility to care for the environment, so we need to wake up and start doing the best we can to preserve, protect and replenish it.”

So, this year the Malawi Creation Care Network is asking pastors to commit to speaking on the role that the church has in responding to environmental issues, in services the Sunday before or after World Environment Day on June 5.

“Most churches feel their mission is to [only] win souls for Christ,” says Dr Tiwonge, “but we’re hoping to ask for time at the churches during announcements to tell people about the issues of plastics from the pulpit. What are these plastics doing to our health and our environment? What does the Bible say about our responsibilities on Earth? Making those linkages is quite important. The more we see church leaders talking about this to their congregation, that concern will be raised in everyone.”

 

3. Partnering with businesses

 

As part of the Renew Our World campaign, the Network has also had a number of preliminary conversations with different businesses about reducing their plastic waste.

“We’ve had three meetings with hotels in different parts of the country,” says Dr Tiwonge excitedly. “During these meetings we share environmentally-friendly product and service alternatives. The businesses are given three months to discuss the changes and we encourage them to report back to us afterwards about what they decide to do. 

“We’ve had some feedback; one hotel is installing fixed dispensers instead of giving small plastic bottles of lotions and shampoos. So that’s been a great one. Another is giving guests a choice between plastic bottles or filtered drinking water in glasses. So it’s giving them the option – that’s a step. Instead of having just one way of delivering your service, you have an alternate “green” way of delivery. Another group is purchasing dishware that has a lid instead of using ClingWrap.

“The next thing we’d like to do is speak to the supermarkets. We would also like to partner a lot more with a recycling company who takes in plastic waste to create blocks and tiling sheets [out of plastic] which can be used to build schooling in the rural areas. So there will also be a bigger focus on community clean-ups and partnership, now that the ban is in place and plastic production is being discontinued.”

 

4. Tackling deforestation 

 

Alongside plastic pollution, the other key issue impacting environmental health in Malawi is deforestation. 

Charles has been deeply involved in coordinating tree planting exercises across the country in order to continue restoring creation. 

We want to pray for activities relating to tree planting because, honestly, there is massive deforestation in Malawi,” Charles says. The greatest inheritance for the future generation is not money, but the environment. So we’re working hard with the Church to integrate tree plantings into church traditions that already exist. 

“For example, when someone is getting married, they should plant a tree as a symbol of their commitment to the marriage. When someone is being baptised, the family should plant a tree. If they are able to take care of a child, they will also be able to take care of a tree. 

“It is also our prayer that students in primary, secondary and tertiary levels will plant more trees. The idea is that each student studying in their first year at each level will plant a tree and look after that tree until he or she is done with that level of schooling. 

“In two or three years time, when they walk outside, the trees will start bearing fruit. That is what we want. That is our prayer.”

May that be our prayer, too. 

It is important to note that precautionary measures have been put in place by Malawi’s government in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic. On the 18 April the country has gone into a lockdown. There are currently 16 confirmed cases and 2 deaths from the virus. Both Charles and Dr Tiwonge are well and have ramped up planning for a social media campaign targeting plastic waste. 

May we join together prayerfully with the Malawi Creation Care Network as they continue leading the way towards the restoration and renewal of our world even in this uncertain time.

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