The ban on plastic bags in Kenya is to come into effect at the end of August. Looking around one wonders how the implementation of the ban will be done, as clearly there is little or no preparedness.
We dispose our garbage using plastic bags, we store food in the fridge using plastic bags, when you look at the shelves in supermarkets most of our products are packed in plastic bags including those that are produced by government parastatals like Mumias Sugar Company are still packing their products in plastic bag those are just but some of the examples of how hooked we are to the use of plastic bags.
True to our true Kenyan spirit of waiting for the last minute to act, we will wait till the last day and someone will look for a loop hole that could build a case in court to extend the date of implementation. But as it were, at the moment the government has put its foot down and indicated this time around there will be no extension.
Light weight plastic bags made from low density polyethylene is what is highly discouraged globally as this are not recyclable. Plastic bags are said to be one of the highest contributors to environmental degradation. Plastic bags end up on streets and in turn this become a danger as they clog sewers, affect aquatic life, pollute water ways and also cause a danger to animals who if they ingest the plastics become a danger to the animals. In India it is estimated that about 20cows die each day from ingestion of plastic.
Various countries in Africa and around the globe have banned the production and the use of plastic bags while others have introduced levies to discourage the use of plastic. Bangladesh was the first country in the world to burn the use of plastics in 2002. In Africa countries such as Rwanda and Morocco have banned the use of plastics and have succeed other countries are in the process of facing out plastics gradually through regulations and also levies.
Kenya has attempted to ban plastics from 2007 but the process has faced opposition from manufacturers and did not succeed at the time. Kenya has however again introduced the agenda in 2017 and is committed to successfully banning and facing out plastic bags.
With the expectation that there would be a possible extension there has been very little progress that has been made by industries and also retail shops like supermarkets to seek alternative to plastic bags. What this creates is the question of whether it will be possible to implement the ban. The last address by the CS Environment on the ban indicated that there would be no farther extension and there would be prohibitive fines to ensure that those individuals and organizations that do not comply face the law.
The elephant in the room however remains, is the problem that Kenya faces a problem of plastic bags management or is it the management of waste. The urban centres in Kenya face a huge challenge when it comes to waste management, dumping sites are in every corner of Nairobi for example. This then raises the question, is plastic ban the priority when it comes to environmental management, or is it coming up with systems of waste management. Nairobi for example through a study done by JICA produces enough waste that if properly managed could be enough to produce energy for Nairobi. The JICA report has not been implemented despite it having recommendations on waste management that could be the solution to making Nairobi one of the cleanest cities in the world.
The challenge to the country however remains coming up with alternatives to polythene papers. Looking around us, the country is highly dependent on plastic bags and there will be need to begin the conversation of coming up with alternatives. Some retail shops have already come up with alternatives but the challenge now remains the packaging of the products that they sell. The alternatives may be more expensive for the industries which might cause the industries to push the costs to the consumers of the different products. Despite this being a progressive move for the country there is need for the private sector and the government to come up with solutions/alternatives that will be of benefit to the businesses and the consumers.