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Implications of the plastic bags ban in Kenya

  • By Mercy Mumo
  • March 29, 2017
  • 0 Comment

The use of plastics dates back to the 1950s with the first plastic used for wrapping sandwiches introduced, followed by department stores in the 70s and supermarket chains in the 80s.  Plastic is the largest source of ocean litter. Apparently, it takes 100s of years to degrade plastic bags, even with this in mind, many countries across the world continue to produce them. The questions we should then be asking ourselves is, why produce something that we only use for a short while then takes 100s years to degrade? 

A number of countries have adopted measures to curb the use of plastics. In the United States, San Franscisco was the first city to ban plastic bags in 2007. As of July 2014, 20 states and 132 cities had either bans in place or pending. Between 2001 and 2011, To reduce the effect of plastic bags, Ireland imposed a plastic bag tax of 37 cents thus reducing the consumption by 90% (over 1 billion bags).

In Africa, widespread bans and charges exist on plastic bags across the continent. Countries like Rwanda, Tanzania and South Africa have been successful in eliminating the use of non-biodegradable plastic bags and the benefits of a clean and healthy environment.

The recent ban on plastic bags in Kenya by the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Natural Resources Prof. Judi Wakhungu, through a gazette notice dated February 28 was met with a lot of uproar and rejection especially from the manufacturing sector. The new measures will take effect six months from the date of the notice. This is the third attempt by the government since 2005 to ban polythene bags below 30 micron.

According to the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, more than 170 plastic manufacturing industries in Kenya employs over 60,000 people. The six-month notice period may not be sufficient to transition and may affect the economy to unprecedented levels. Public-private partnerships are required in making the process as smooth and cost effective as possible.

For the longest time, plastic bags have been a major eyesore in all parts of the country with a major challenge on the mode of disposal. Drainages in most towns and cities in Kenya remain clogged with the effect being felt during the rains. Reusable bags, though costly to produce may be the long term solution. Sensitization on waste management especially in the public space is critical if littering along roads, drainages and undesignated dumping areas is to be tackled.

Behavior change is needed in our habits on plastic bags. We may want to explore imposing taxes or other charges associated with the use of non-biodegradable plastic bags. The money collected could be used for initiatives aimed at protecting the environment. If for instance for every bag used at the grocery store or supermarket there was a charge imposed, I would have the self efficacy to invest in biodegradable bags to reduce my expenditure on plastic bags.   

Support from the government, private sector and civil society will be instrumental in supporting the ban. The Kenya Climate Innovation Center (KCIC) may want to explore and weigh the possibility of venturing into the waste disposal and recycling space. This may fast track the process of adopting the plastic bag ban through supporting entrepreneurs with an eye for recycling plastic waste or producing bio degradable bags. By giving plastic waste monetary value just like the metallic waste, it may be the immediate solution to dealing with the menace.

By Mercy Mumo