By Eric Rugara
We have grown up using plastic bags. Plastic bags are not just a commodity. They are a way of life. We carry our shopping in plastic bags. Scratch that, we carry almost everything in plastic bags.
But starting August 28th this year, all that will change.
For most of us, this is a deeply abstract concept. In fact, it borders on the impossible. We can’t conceive of a world where plastic bags are not the norm.
And perhaps deep inside we don’t want to imagine such a world.
Yes, it will be a cleaner and more beautiful world. There will be no more eyesores of plastic bags sticking on the branches of trees. No more plastic bags half-buried in the ground on the streets of our once-clean neighborhoods.
It is a utopian dream for most of us. If you are reading this blog, you probably have a sense of responsibility when it comes to your environment. It pains you to see where the world is heading, and you want to do something about it.
On February 28th 2017, the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources announced to the public with Gazette notice No. 2334 that six months from the day of the gazette (28th August), the use of plastic bags will be banned in the country.
The ban covers manufacture, importation, as well as commercial use and household packaging of plastic bags.
Why is the government banning plastic bags?
Some of the reasons the government gave for banning plastic bags include:
-Plastic does not biodegrade/decompose.
-Harmful to animals if they consume them.
-Air pollution when burned in the open air.
NEMA’s press statement on the plastic ban states that anyone who “contravenes the provision of the gazette notice shall be liable to a fine not less than two million Kenya Shillings, and not more than four million Kenya Shillings, or imprisonment of not less than one year but not more than four years or to both such fine and imprisonment”.
The six-month grace period is intended to give manufacturers and importers of plastic bags enough time to set their houses in order.
The Kenya Association of Manufacturers’ response
The Kenya Association of Manufacturers released a statement, contending with the government’s decision, claiming that they had not been adequately consulted. KAM asserts that there are over 176 plastic manufacturing companies in the country which “directly employ 2.89% of all Kenyan employees and indirectly employ over 60,000 people”.
KAM argues that the ban will adversely impact on the jobs and livelihoods of Kenyans who work in the plastic manufacturing sector. The association also points out that since imported products which come packaged in plastic bags will not be affected by the ban, there will be an uneven playing field, with Kenyan companies holding the short end of the stick.
The ban came on the heels of George King’ori’s online petition. Mr. King’ori started the petition in November 2016. The aim was to convince the President and Parliament to ban plastic bags in the country. At the time of writing this article, the petition has 5,924 signatures.
Some detractors have wondered at the timing of the ban. This being an election year, a few people are bound to get suspicious. However, it seems the Ministry has been working towards this goal for quite a while if this 2015 tweet by the cabinet secretary is anything to go by:
The UN approves
The UN’s environment agency reports that Kenyan supermarkets give out 100 million plastic bags annually. The organization notes that plastic bags are one of the major causes of environmental damage and health problems. They cause the death of birds, fish, and other animals who ingest them. In addition, they turn tourist sites into eyesores, they cause damage to agricultural land, and they act as breeding grounds for mosquitoes which transmit illnesses like malaria and dengue fever.
Kenya’s plastic ban was announced three weeks after the UN announced a “war on plastic” with its Clean Seas initiative. The initiative has already gotten commitments by 10 governments that they will address plastic pollution.
The UN’s Head of Environment, Erik Solheim commended Kenya for taking decisive action to remove what he called “an ugly stain on [Kenya’s] outstanding natural beauty”. He expressed hopes that Kenya’s action will inspire other countries to do the same, or at least increase the number of commitments to the Clean Seas campaign.
If plastic usage goes unchecked; by 2050, the oceans of our planet will have more plastic in them than fish. Every year 8 million tons of plastic find their way to the sea.