Kenya is ready with alternatives to polythene carrier bags

Written by
Dr Ayub Macharia

On 28th February 2017, the Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Natural resources issued the Gazette notice No. 2356, banning the use, manufacture and importation of all plastic bags used for commercial and household packaging. The Cabinet Secretary exercised powers conferred under section 3 and 86 of the Environmental Management and Co-ordination Act (EMCA Cap 387). The gazette notice notified the public that this ban will take effect from 6th month from the date of the notice, that is from 28th August 2017 .
This ban on plastic bags has left many wondering what to do since plastic bags have been an intrinsic part of our day-to-day life, despite its adverse effects on the environment. The public is not aware on the alternatives that can be used when the plastic bags are withdrawn from use. But now that the ban is in force, the public is left with no option other than to choose appropriate alternatives to the polythene bag.
Getting an alternative for the polythene bag is not difficult. In our archives of indigenous practices when the polythene bag had not been invented, we used bags made from diverse materials to carry our goods. I wish to remind you of some of the alternatives to the polythene bag which you could consider as suitable options.
Canvas bags
Canvas is usually made of cotton or linen. Canvas is a durable plain-woven fabric used for making many items for which sturdiness is required. Items made from Canvas include sails, tents, marquees, backpacks and other items.
It is also popularly used by artists as a painting surface whereby they stretch it across a wooden frame. Being easy to write on makes canvas a prefered option for those interested in advertising different products and services. Canvas bags carrying advertisements are normally given out for free by corporates and if this is not checked, it may lead to many of these durable bags being disposed to the environment. Hence it would be a good idea to sell the Canvas bags for a small fee to ensure that people do not have excess of them at their disposal.
Canvas fabric is popular in making bags that are durable. These bags can be of different varieties, shapes and sizes. Canvas fabric is thicker than plastic bags. It is easier for an individual to buy the fabric and
stitch personal customized canvas bags at home. Customization could be in regard to shape, size, colours and accessories.
With the ban in place, it is therefore possible to create hundreds and thousands of jobs from local tailors making canvas bags for the people. Being more durable than polythene bags implies that people will reuse the bags and hence reduce negative impacts on the environment.

Denim bags
Denim is a sturdy cotton used to make durable clothing for use in harsh environments such as mining and surveying. This clothing is popularly refereed to as “Jeans”. Our old and worn out jeans can be reused by making bags that are tear-resistant and extremely durable. Hence use of denim bags is another creative way to go green. Denim is appropriate since it stretches, flows and is easy to stitch, handle and clean.
With the plastic bag ban in place denim bags present another employment stream as the people have these old tear resistant clothes. Local tailors who are innovative will come in handy to develop all manner of Denim bags for use by Kenyans. The jobs created will be many and spread throughout the country.

Jute bags
Jute is a long, soft, shiny vegetable fiber that can be spun into coarse, strong threads. Kenyan sisal plants have similar features and played a major economic role before the emergence of polythene bags. Jute bags are user friendly and can carry items to our place of work, to the market, shopping malls, grocery shop or even the beach. Communities have unique intricate weaving patterns and dyes which make these bags an admirable piece of art.
With the polythene bags ban in place, we expect that the sisal industry will be revamped. The demand for these fibres will lead to increased employment in sisal factories such as Vipingo in Kilifi. Areas that traditionally farmed the sisal plant may start farming of the same.
Its also expected that the popular Kenyan Kiondo will be revived. The women who have a weaving talent will have a new employment front to engage in. Hundreds of women groups throughout the country will be engaged in weaving Kiondo.

Paper bags
A paper bag is made out of paper. Paper bags are commonly used as shopping bags. They are eco-friendly, recyclable, foldable and easy to store. Although paper bags are not as strong as canvas or jute bags, they make an excellent alternative to plastic bags.
Paper bags are made from trees or other plants such as water hyacinth. Soft wood trees are used and are mainly grown in plantations. Those who justify the use of polythene bags argue against cutting of trees to make paper bags, which may increase carbon emissions by removing plants that absorb carbon dioxide gas.
Implementation of the recent polythene ban is likely to create jobs in those industries involved in paper manufacturing such as Pan-Paper Mills in Western Kenya. Farmers may also opt to grow the soft wood used for making paper and this may provide additional livelihood.

Water hyacinth bags
Water hyacinth contains fibre that is used to make diverse items including bags. Innovative artisans make the bags in various hues and styles, sometimes even with leather additions.
Kenya has over 10,000 hectares of water hyacinth in Lake Victoria. Water hyacinth has also invaded other wetlands. Hence Kenya has substantial supply of water hyacinth which could be used to make bags as alternatives for the polythene bags.
With the implementation of the polythene bag, we expect increased demand for the hyacinth bags. This will create jobs for the youth and women groups in different parts of the country. There are currently many individuals and groups involved in making water hyacinth bags especially around Lake Victoria and we expect them to have booming business.

Crochet bags
Crochet is a process of creating fabric by interlocking loops of thread, or strands of other materials using a crochet hook.

Crocheting is a skill that many Kenyans have mastered. Crochet bags are easy to make and cheap. All that the people need is some wool and a crochet needle. Hence many Kenyans can creatively make their own bag. This creativity has not been tapped since presence of polythene bags have reduced the demand for the crochet bags.
Implementation of the polythene bag ban will rekindle this innovative industry and many people of all ages will get livelihood opportunities.

The discussion above clearly demonstrate that Kenya has ready alternatives for the polythene bags that have been banned. These alternatives make use of the indigenous knowledge and practices resident in the Kenyan people.
The players in the plastic sector have argued that implementation of the polythene bags ban will lead to loss of jobs for Kenyans. However, one would wonder where these jobs are resident and how many people are involved. My opinion is that the jobs are resident in cities where the polythene manufacturers operate and involve very few people. It is evident from the discussion on the alternatives above that there will be more job opportunities created which will be spread to Kenyans of all ages throughout the country. Hence going for the alternatives to polythene bags is a better option for Kenya in terms of job opportunities and benefits to the environment.

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