The Kenyan government, through the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), has officially begun to enforce the controversial ban on plastic carrier bags.
The ban, which was first conceptualized ten years ago, prohibits manufacture, sale and use of plastic carrier bags. Anyone or company found guilty of flouting this ban is liable to a prison sentence of up to four years or a fine of up to $38,000.
A cloud of uncertainty has gripped the entire country as Kenyans contemplate their next best alternative. On Friday, the Kenyan High Court rejected a petition filed by two plastic bag importers challenging the ban.
In their argument, the importers argued that the ban will render close to more than 80,000 people jobless. The ban has come as a shocker to many Kenyans who are used to carrying grocery items and other consumables in plastic bags.
It’s still not clear how Kenyan shoppers will adjust to a life without plastic bags, especially since they are usually given for free at retail outlets. Under the new rules, foreigners visiting Kenya with duty-free plastic shop bags are required to leave them at the airport and collect them when they depart.
The only viable option for Kenyans at the moment is the traditional bags, locally known as “Ciondos”. These ones are made from locally-sourced materials such as sisal and are known to be very environmental-friendly.
The only downside in using the traditional bags is that they are a bit expensive compared to plastic paper bags mainly because they are handmade and require materials that are not readily available.
Protecting the Environment
Despite numerous pleas by the opposition and manufacturers for an extension of the 6-month notice period issued by the NEMA, the government maintains that the ban will play a critical role in the fight against environmental degradation.
The government has further proven its commitment to the ban through a Gazette notice number 2356 made on February 28, 2017 by the Cabinet Secretary for Environment Judi Wakhungu.
Studies have shown that Kenyans use up to 24 million plastic bags a month, all of which end up in garbage dump sites around the country. This has in turn had a devastating effect on the environment.
Apart from increasing landfills, plastic paper bags also contribute heavily to the emission of toxic gases into the air and a tremendous increase in the levels of VOCs in the air.
But despite the uncertainty, majority of Kenyans are supportive of the ban, perhaps because they are also tired of the mountains of filthy plastic paper bags in their backyards.
Kenya is not the first African country to ban plastic paper bags; others that have already outlawed the plastic carriers include Eritrea, Rwanda, and Mauritania.