Kenya imposes world’s toughest law against plastic bags

Plastic bags have become an epidemic in Kenya, but they are now banned from use in the country by one of the most stringent laws in the world. Violations of the law are punishable by fines of up to $38,000 (32,000 euros) and up to four years in prison.

Kenya’s Plastic Bag Ban

Kenya’s ban on plastic bags went into effect on August 28, 2017 with offenders subject to serious fines or jail time. The ban covers the use, importation, or manufacture of plastic bags. Although it was passed in February, 2017, the new ban didn’t go into effect immediately so that Kenyan consumers would have the chance to adjust to the change. The delay also gave importers a chance to challenge the ban in court, which were ultimately rejected by the country’s High Court.  Neither plastic bin liners nor plastic-wrapped goods violate the law.

This makes Kenya one of dozens of countries and cities (such as New Delhi, India) that have restricted, levied, or completely banned the use of plastic bags.

The plastic bag ban applies to the use, manufacture, and importation of plastic shopping bags. Exemptions were made for those producing plastic bags for industrial purposes.

Plastic Waste Epidemic

The law is an important step in Kenya, where supermarkets alone distribute as many as 100 million plastic bags annually, according to UN Environment Programme (UNEP). Throughout the country, roads and trees are often covered with discarded plastic bags — which end up blocking drains and choking wild and livestock animals. Off the Kenyan coast, islands of plastic waste are detrimental to fish and other aquatic life.

In Nairobi’s slaughterhouses, some cows destined for human consumption had 20 bags removed from their stomachs.


Cows in Kenyan abattoirs are often found with plastic bags in their stomach.

A customer carries his shopping in a cloth carrier bag in Nairobi, Kenya, Monday, Aug. 28, 2017.  Photo: AP Photo/Sayyid Abdul Azim

“This is something we didn’t get ten years ago but now its almost on a daily basis,” said county vet Mbuthi Kinyanjui as he watched men in bloodied white uniforms scoop sodden plastic bags from the stomachs of cow carcasses.

Kenya’s law allows police to go after anyone even carrying a plastic bag. But Judy Wakhungu, Kenya’s environment minister, said enforcement would initially be directed at manufacturers and suppliers.

“Ordinary wananchi will not be harmed,” she told Reuters, using a Kiswahili word for “common man”.

It took Kenya three attempts over ten years to finally pass the ban, and not everyone is a fan.

Samuel Matonda, spokesman for the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, said it would cost 60,000 jobs and force 176 manufacturers to close. Kenya is a major exporter of plastic bags to the region.

“The knock-on effects will be very severe,” Matonda said.

“It will even affect the women who sell vegetables in the market – how will their customers carry their shopping home?”

Big Kenyan supermarket chains like France’s Carrefour and Nakumatt have already started offering customers cloth bags as alternatives.


Karla Lant, Futurism, Business Insider

August 29, 2017


Microbeads to be banned from toothpastes, soaps, and beauty products in the U.S.

Beginning in mid-2017, tiny plastic beads found in some bath and beauty products will be prohibited. The ban, which President Obama signed into law in late December, is aimed at the billions of “microbeads” that some researchers estimate wash down U.S. drains every day, slip through sewage treatment plants and end up being eaten by fish in lakes, rivers and oceans.

“This is huge,” said Julie Lawson, executive director of Trash Free Maryland, an environmental group that helped push through a state ban on microbeads last year. “We’re not trying to get these products off the shelves. We’re trying to get manufacturers to change the way they make them.”

The tiny plastic beads are most often used as mild abrasives to exfoliate skin and strip away dirt and oil. They also put the colorful sparkle in some toothpastes and help fill in wrinkles in some “age-defying” make-up. Congressional researchers say hundreds of products contain microbeads and that a single bottle or tube can have hundreds of thousands of the tiny particles.

Once they wash down drains and reach sewage treatment plants, they can slip through filters that weren’t designed for such small particles and end up discharged into waterways, where they look like tiny eggs. Fish that eat them can suffer problems, researchers say, and end up on dinner plates.

Drinking water drawn from the same waterways with the beads isn’t considered a risk, environmental activists say, because water filtration plants screen out smaller contaminants than sewage treatment facilities.

“They are so small, and there are so many of them,” said George S. Hawkins, general manager of D.C. Water, which provides drinking water in Washington and sewage treatment for the city and surrounding suburbs. “The worry was they’re getting through our systems and into rivers and becoming part of the food chain.”

While there’s been relatively little research into the prevalence of beads in waterways, the problem drew national attention in 2013, after a study found colorful microbeads in the Great Lakes. A 2015 study published in Environmental Science & Technology estimated that, nationwide, 808 billion beads are washed down drains daily. [The volume was enough to coat the surface of 300 tennis courts every day.] Up to 99 percent of those probably settle out at the sewage treatment plant and end up in leftover sludge, those researchers said. However, even the relatively scant numbers that get through treatment plants amount to an estimated 8 billion daily reaching waterways, the study found.

John Hurson, who oversees government affairs for the Personal Care Products Council, said manufacturers can replace the beads with natural materials, such as sand, sugar or ground-up walnut shells. It’s unclear how the change will affect product costs, he said.

He said companies used the plastic beads because they’re safe, non-allergenic and gentle on the skin. But he said some companies, particularly European manufacturers, began discontinuing them voluntarily in the early 2000s, after a late-1990s study raised the possibility that they were getting through sewage treatment facilities.

Hurson said the industry is responsible for a “minuscule portion” of microplastics found in waterways because they also come from clothing fibers, boat paint particles and degrading plastic bags and bottles. Even so, he said, the industry supported environmental groups’ calls for a national standard on microbeads after at least eight states passed similar bans in the past two years.

“It made sense to us to be very supportive of a national phaseout,” Hurson said.

Even with limited scientific data on a relatively new issue, the legislation enjoyed an unusual level of bipartisan support, sailing through Congress with little controversy.

“This is a very strange example of the policy being quicker than the science,” said Chelsea Rochman, one of the researchers on the 2015 study. “But we know enough about microplastics to know they’re a concern for wildlife.”

The federal ban, activists said, goes further than the state laws because it takes effect sooner and doesn’t allow exceptions. It pertains only to microbeads in toothpaste and “rinse-off” products, so it doesn’t cover those in deodorants, lotions or make-up. It also doesn’t affect plastic abrasives in household cleaners.


By Katherine Shaver, Washington Post