Producing, selling and using plastic bags becomes illegal as officials say they want to target manufacturers and sellers first.
Kenyans producing, selling or even using plastic bags will risk imprisonment of up to four years or fines of $40,000 (£31,000) from Monday, as the world’s toughest law aimed at reducing plastic pollution came into effect.
The east African nation joins more than 40 other countries that have banned, partly banned or taxed single use plastic bags, including China, France, Rwanda, and Italy.
Many bags drift into the ocean, strangling turtles, suffocating seabirds and filling the stomachs of dolphins and whales with waste until they die of starvation.
“If we continue like this, by 2050, we will have more plastic in the ocean than fish,” said Habib El-Habr, an expert on marine litter working with the UN environment programme in Kenya.
“This is something we didn’t get 10 years ago but now it’s 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.
It took Kenya three attempts over 10 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.
Reuters, August 28, 2017
UPDATE: Visiting Kenya a year into its plastic bag ban
A big step divides opinion
Until this time last year, the bags that have now been written out of quotidian existence were widely used, especially at places like Nairobi’s bustling Kangemi market where traders sell everything from fruit and veg to clothing.
The recyclable fabric totes that now hang on each stall are 10 times the price of their illegal plastic predecessors. Many customers bring their own bags or carry their goods in buckets instead.
For Wilfred Mwiti, who regularly shops at the market, the plastic bag ban isn’t a problem. On the contrary.
“I’m okay with the ban and my feeling is that the government should work out a way in which the remaining bags could be eliminated,” he said, referring to packaging on individual food items.
But not everyone has embraced the new rules with such enthusiasm. Although she acknowledges the environmental benefits of the law, sweet-potato vendor Martha Ndinda is still struggling with the new reality.
“I used to sell sweet potatoes in plastic bags, they were packed in plastic bags for them to remain fresh. But now they’re becoming dry so fast,” she said.
The biggest critic of the ban is the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM). Prior to the new rules, the country was home to 170 plastic-producing companies that employed almost 3 percent of the Kenyan workforce.
Sachen Gudka, who runs a label-manufacturing company, is chairman of KAM and one of the country’s most influential businessmen.
He says a lot of companies, which received no government compensation following the ban, had to close in its wake, and that around 60,000 jobs were lost as a result, directly and indirectly. He would have liked to see the legislation phased in more gradually.
“Kenya used to have a thriving economy in terms of plastic bags to the neighboring countries, all those export earnings have now been lost to Kenya,” Gudka said.
The future is recycling
Betty Nzioka of NEMA, is hoping those neighboring countries will soon follow Kenya’s lead, resulting in “a collective ban across East Africa.”
Until that happens, the authorities will continue to face challenges, such as the illegal import of plastic bags from countries such as Uganda.
On the whole however, Nzioka is pleased with public willingness to accept the changes, and welcomes the upshot of cleaner streets and fewer plastic bags turning up in fishing nets and cows’ stomachs.
Well before the ban, in 2013, student and photographer James Wakibia launched a social media campaign with the hashtag #ISupportBanPlasticsKE, calling for an end to single-use plastic bags. Wakibia’s activism attracted widespread attention, including from the government in Nairobi, which put a ban at the top of its to-do list. Plastic carrier bags and their smaller, thinner counterparts used for packaging fruit and vegetables have now been outlawed for a year.
Wakibia wants the government to implement more ambitious rules and would like to see the ban expanded to include further products like bread packaging. “Many are exempt from the ban of plastic bags,” he said. “My call is to ban all single-use plastic, like plastic straws.”
That’s a move that wouldn’t be popular with KAM.
. . . Wakibia is now working with activists from Zambia and Sudan on a forward strategy. Because even though his route into Nakuru is now largely free of plastic bags, he knows the broader issue is far from solved.
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