7 reasons why Kenya banned plastic carrier bags

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7 reasons why Kenya banned plastic carrier bags
Dr Ayub Macharia

Do you know why the government banned plastic bag use? Here are the 7 reasons why Kenya banned plastic carrier bags.

7 reasons why Kenya banned plastic carrier bags
Plastic bags were becoming popular and resulted in environment degradation

Plastics were introduced in Kenya in the 1960s as a simple solution for packaging. Their use gained momentum over the years as Kenyans adopted them as preferred means of packaging.

Shoppers were supplied with excess bags more than was necessary. Many consumers started requesting as many bags as they could carry so long as there was something to be packed.

Unfortunately, consumers did not know what to do with the excess plastic bags they were getting. There was little awareness on proper disposal of the bags. In addition, an appropriate mechanism of their disposal was lacking.

Plastic bags were favoured by industry, retailers and the public for the following reasons.

  • They are cost-effective, easy to use, and convenient to store
  • They are available in bulk purchases at very low cost as compared to alternative bags such as reusable cloth bags
  • Plastic bags are quicker to open, pack, and double up than other bags
  • Plastic bags are light and require less storage space than other bags.

Over the years, these bags continued to be dumped recklessly. With time, this turned into a rather costly undertaking. The plastic bags turned out to be the biggest challenge in solid waste management. The government had to move swiftly by banning the use of polythene bags.

7 reasons why Kenya banned plastic carrier bags

plastic bag ban
Plastic ban has resulted in innovative ways of carrying our food

Kenya’s resolve to ban polythene bags was informed by scientific evidence of the negative effects of the same. Here are the 7 reasons why Kenya banned plastic carrier bags include the following:-

1. Reduce environmental aesthetics

When used and disposed improperly, polythene bags become harmful litter. This litter finds its way into waterways, parks, beaches and streets reducing their aesthetics. Our trees were being chocked by full of different coloured bags blown by wind.

Since Kenya’s selling point as a tourism destination is her natural and scenic beauty these plastics had become a menace. This beauty was marred by plastic waste that was scattered along our highways used by tourists.

Our national parks were no longer natural. They were littered either by tourists or through polythene bags blown by the wind. Nakuru National Park, for instance, was collecting tons of polythene bags. These were either blown by wind into the park or carried to the lake by the rivers draining therein. Every month, Nakuru National Park spent over Kshs 1 million to clear the polythene bags in the park.

2. Release toxic fumes when burnt

When burned, plastics pollute the air with toxic fumes that contain chemicals such as dioxins and furans. These chemicals have been linked with cancer.

It is common to find people burning waste at dumpsites and in residential areas. The smoke flows freely and people seem not to be aware of the dangers they are exposed to. As a result, many people have been exposed to carcinogens from plastic smoke.

Similar post: What Plastics Are Recyclable?

3. The ingestion of plastic bags kills animals

Plastic bags are a threat to aquatic life, wildlife animals and livestock. When ingested, a polythene bag fills the guts of the animal and results into death. Even after death, the plastic bag remains intact and doesn’t decompose with the dead animal.

A report by abattoirs in Kenya indicate that at least one animal has plastics in their digestive systems. The most affected livestock are cows, which may be attributed to the selective feeding preferences of other types of livestock such as sheep and goats.

A case was reported of a slaughtered cow with an average of 2.5 kilograms of plastic waste in its lumen. This has negative economic impacts especially in dairy cows.

Kenya’s marine ecosystem was not spared either. Every year, tons of polythene bags and other waste is collected from our oceans especially during Coastal Cleanup day. The oceans were littered with all types of polythene bags and marine animals were found with these bags in their lumen.

4. Contribute to flooding in urban areas

Polythene bags litter clogs drainage and sewer lines increasing the costs of maintenance. And when left unattended, it leads to flooding of urban areas during heavy rains. This makes our roads impassable and cuts off some areas when it rains. If flooding worsens, it can lead to drowning, destruction of houses and loss of life.

5. Act as breeding grounds for harmful organisms

Polythene bags trap stagnant water which becomes a breeding ground for malaria causing mosquitoes. The littered bags also provide hideouts for other harmful organisms such as rats, cockroaches and snakes which can harm people either directly or as carriers of disease causing microbes.

Similar post: Innovative capacity building on waste recovery and marketing

6. Plastics take centuries to decompose

The decomposition of polythene bags takes about 1,000 years and this means that they remain for long in the environment. Hence the polythene bags that were introduced in Kenya in the 1960’s is still lying somewhere in the environment causing harm to the planet and people.

7. Legal and policy demands

The Constitution of Kenya 2010 assures all Kenyans of a clean and healthy environment. Article 69 obligates the government to eliminate all processes and activities that degrades the environment.

To fulfill these constitutional demands, the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources developed several policies such as the Sessional Paper No. 10 of 2014 on Environment Policy.

This was followed by Gazette notice No. 2356 issued on 28th February 2017 to ban plastic carrier bags. It was a culmination of a healthy debate between the government and the private sector on solid waste management and how to eliminate polythene bags.

The policy at a glance
plastic ban policy in Kenya
Plastic ban has resulted in providing jobs for all people regardless of their educational status

This engagement started in 2007 when the first legislation was imposed through a finance bill. The bill introduced excise duty on importation of polythene raw materials and products. However, it did not solve the plastic bags menace.

From 2007, the main concern from the private sector was loss of jobs. However, it was discovered that these direct jobs were mainly confined in Nairobi where the factories that make plastic bags were located.

The indirect jobs were mainly retail of the polythene bags. Hence these jobs were localized and involved only a few people. The flip side was that the environmental damage caused by plastics was nationwide.

This analysis also showed that a shift to using alternative bags could create more jobs all over the country. The alternative packaging industry would also revive indigenous art craft and growing of sisal and cotton. This indicated that the removal of carrier bags would elevate levels of livelihood gains as well as environmental conservation benefits.

EMCA Cap 387 mandates NEMA to advise the office of the Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MENR). This mandate includes diverse aspects of environmental management, legislation, policies and guidelines. This being so, NEMA advised the Cabinet Secretary to impose a ban on plastic carrier bags.

Law making process demands for extensive consultation with the Attorney General’s office where legal drafting is done. The Cabinet Secretary MENR consulted at length with the Attorney General’s office.

The consultation birthed the Gazette Notice No. 2356 which was published on 28th February 2017. The industry and the public were then given a grace period of 6 months to adjust to the ban. The ban eventually became effective on 28th August 2017.

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In conclusion

The plastic carrier bags ban is bearing fruits. The alternative bags production has been up scaled and has employed many people across the country. Because this employment opportunity benefits people of all levels of education and gender, it enhances inclusivity.

Since the ban became effective, the country appears to be getting cleaner. The plastic bags littering that were an eyesore is reducing. Our residential areas now look less littered. If all people stop using the polythene bags, the beauty of our environment will keep improving.

This demands all people to be responsible in order to safeguard our constitutional right of having a clean environment. I urge and encourage each one of us to take collective responsibility. Polythene bags are a common environmental menace and needs to be removed from the environment.

Get in touch and let us know how this article has changed the way you look at plastic bags. Feel free to add to the list of 7 reasons why Kenya banned plastic carrier bags in the comment form below.

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