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


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