The ban on plastic bags finally took effect from 28th August 2017, after a six month notice from the Cabinet Secretary, Prof. Judi Wakhungu.
In our true Kenyan spirit we did not take this seriously and waited for the last minute to react, complain, and have some manufacturers rush and build a case to overturn the directives of the ban.
Environmentalists tried for years in the past to get the ban of plastics effected or at least charge the manufacturers with little success, but the tide seems to have turned with the government this time round putting its foot down and indicating this time round there will be no extension as well as hefty fines for carrying, selling, or manufacturing plastic bags.
FACT is: Plastic bags are really handy but we all know that they’re also terrible for the environment and for wildlife. They will not decompose for centuries, and they float across wide swaths of the seas. They 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 etc. This same Plastic bags are said to be one of the highest contributors to environmental degradation, with light weight plastic bags made from low density polyethylene being the most highly discouraged globally as this are not recyclable.
ONE WEEK ON:
Supermarkets have started heeding the ban. Many have switched from plastic bags to reusable, cloth sacks, but a quick drive around Nairobi revealed that plastic bags are still in use. So far, there have been no reports of any enforcement actions.
Kenyans are adapting to the ban with the small traders using all ways to inform their customers, like this open air eatery (“Githeri” shop) in Kawangware putting a notice reading: “POLITE NOTICE: To our Customers, Due to the Government ban of Nylon paper bags we advise our esteemed customers to carry appropriate carrier bags/Containers as we work to fine a lasting solution”.
It has worked as customers are bringing their own containers or buying containers from a nearby vendor. However, IT IS IMPORTANT that the Ministry and NEMA start intensive advocacy and sensitization so that the adherence is natural and also from an educated point of fear rather than from fear of being arrested. The truth is that most people on the ground do not understand the ban and do not feel that they have any responsible or critical role to play.
A spot check indicate that there are those who have not come to terms and do not know any other way to conduct business without the business. The cost of alternatives is also prohibitive as one small business owner reiterated, “The small plastic bags cost Ksh.100/- for two sets of 50pieces each, while the small brown paper is costing Ksh.250/- per one set”. Therefore only a few people are taking the challenge and now using the polythene in the evening and night to pack the various small wares for their customers who do not carry their own bags – probably because even those customers do not know what to carry e.g. cut kales otherwise known as Sukuma wiki, cut sugarcane, foodstuffs especially hot like Githeri, tea, milk, soups etc. All this, mainly in the low income areas like, Huruma, Kawangware, Kibera, Mathare, Eastlands etc.
SUSTAINABILITY OF THE BAN:
As we enter into the phase of ensuring sustainability, we must gave conversations with those selling delicate items on a way forward and how they will survive in business beyond the ban, as we work with them as the ban ambassadors. Without this we will end up having many common citizens languishing in jail for not heeding to the ban and unable to pay the hefty fines.
What Can Be Done to Help?
So the big question is: What can you and I do to help?
- Eliminating plastic bags is a necessary step to decreasing the amount of waste and pollution in the long term. Replacing all plastic and paper bags with reusable bags would mark a significant shift toward waste and pollution elimination.
- So the first step should be to always reuse bags you have – be it paper, plastic, or textile.
- We must sensitize people on the old mantra of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle to ensure that we keep this in mind (Buy less, utilize things multiple times, and then put them into recycling or composting instead of a landfill).
- As we pack our groceries, we need to think about the harm plastic bags have on our environment. Sure it may be hard not to use them, even I know this. It is a hard habit to break! But, I now know that these convenience items are devastating.
- Participate in local clean-ups or organize them in your neighborhood.
- Finally, call your legislators, and ask them to lead with solutions to the pollution issue facing your area.
But old habits die hard and our local businesses, industries and people will be slow in adapting sustainable and green practices.
The ban in Kenya remains a bold move and it will pay off in the end. We are going back to the basics.