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What happens to the plastic bags in which the nets are packaged?

A question from Alex H (Australia)

"You have distributed a little over 1.4million nets. Each net comes in its own plastic bag. Does this mean there are 1.4 million used plastic bags now littering the areas in which the nets have been distributed?"
Our answer is as follows:
Plastic bags? 

No. Plastic bags are either:

a) removed before the nets are handed out. Sometimes but not always. (Estimate: 25% of cases.)

b) not removed at the time of distribution
  • ... but collected during the post-distribution follow-up by the distribution partner and taken away for disposal, typically landfill (Est: 15%)
  • ... and not collected post-distribution and
    • reused as bags/storage etc (Est: 10%)
    • thrown away (Est: 50%)
These are educated guesses based on some data and other anecdotal information.

Where possible, nets are handed out removed from the bags. This is to reduce either possible resale (albeit this doesn’t happen often) or avoid the beneficiary keeping the new net until a net currently being used, but worn out, is even more worn out. In the situation where it is removed, the plastic bag typically goes to landfill. However, bags are now increasingly biodegradable (see an example here).

What about the nets?

Obviously, the nets constitute a larger quantity of plastic. There is a study underway looking at the recycling options for nets as this is becoming a significant issue/opportunity. This is not an easy issue to resolve but there is a strong consensus a solution must be found. For example - pdf 1.5Mb
The obvious benefit of the nets protecting people from malaria leaves us all with the clear choice that, even absent of net recycling/organised disposal/bag disposal, it is worth distributing the nets. However, biodegradability is likely to be the way forward for the bags and recycling the way forward for the nets.