Don't bin that bag: it may hold God's word

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The Independent Online
Recycling may be the international rallying cry for environmentally sound citizens, but Afghanistan's ruling Taliban has its own thoughts on the matter. Along with other radical steps to stem dissolute 20th-century practices, the movement's new edict is: no recyling. Henceforth, citizens are not allowed to carry paper bags - especially if the paper in question has already enjoyed another, more dignified life, perhaps as a page in the Koran.

The new move is part of the Taliban's drive to impose Islamic law in Afghanistan. "We respect paper, whether it is written on or not. We have announced that people should not use paper for bags or put paper on the rubbish tip," Amir Khan Mutaqi, the acting information minister, said yesterday.

He demanded that people use plastic bags instead. However, paper bags are used more often in the markets of Kabul, not least because plastic ones are much more expensive.

Some women even earn their livings by making up paper bags from discarded paper in the street. One woman squatting in front of a pile of paper bags in Kabul's Karte Parwan market said: "I used to work for the government, I need to sell bags to feed my family. What else can I do?"

The government's logic is, as one market trader noted: "There might be some words from the Holy Koran or Arabic writing on the paper which might be thrown away, and that would be an insult to the Holy Koran."

The ban on paper bags is only the latest in a string of recent edicts, including a requirement that all government workers grow beards. A number of civil servants have already been sacked for failing to comply.

The paper bag ban had unexpected side-effects. There was an immediate run on toilet paper by customers worried that it, too, might be affected by the Taliban edict.