The ban on polythene bags – are Kenyans ready?
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 mixed reactions. In less than three months, the six months grace period for Kenya to cease from production, importation, sale and use of plastic bags will expire. Pursuant to section 144 of the Environmental Management and Co-ordination Act (EMCA), “Any person who contravenes the provision of the gazette notice shall be liable to a fine of not less than two (2) million Kenya Shillings, and not more than four (4) million Kenya shillings, or imprisonment of a term of not less than one (1) year but not more than two (2) years or to both such fine and imprisonment.”
Plastic bags litter most parts of the country and have become an eyesore in major parts of Kenya. Drainages in our towns remain clogged and the effect of this is being felt during the rainy season. Open burning of plastic bags produces dangerous chemicals (furans and dioxins) which are not only harmful to the environment but also to human health. These chemicals lead to lung and respiratory disorders, different forms of cancer, hormonal imbalance, skin diseases, child birth defects, decreasing fertility and suppressed immunity.
Due to its non-biodegradable nature, irresponsible disposal of plastic bags is affecting the environment in its totality. They are also polluting the coastal and marine environments by smothering the coral reefs and choking marine animals; leading to their death after consuming plastic materials.
Many Kenyans support the ban of polythene bags, especially those below 30 micron, which are the most common type. The manufacturing industry is crying foul, stating that more than 60,000 Jobs will be lost and this will in turn affect the Country’s economy. It would perhaps be interesting for us to understand the breakdown of these 60,000 jobs in terms of specialization; however, we agree that more research should be done on the environmental cost burden that this plastic mess is subjecting the Country to. Manufacturers of plastic bags should invest in the production of alternative, recyclable bags which the Government ought to zero-rate on taxes to make them affordable to the citizens.
In order to win the fight against plastic waste pollution, the private sector, the government and non-governmental organizations should work together to formulate long-lasting solutions.
The Green Belt Movement has realized that a bottom-up approach to environmental education, with respect to plastic waste management, is vital. In line with this, we are sensitizing communities and different stakeholders on sustainable waste management, behavior change in relation to use of polythene bags and the negative effects of poor disposal of plastic waste.
In the last one month, the Green Belt Movement in partnership with the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and the Ministry of Health, has held stakeholder workshops in Mombasa and Kilgoris Counties. These workshops aim at adopting and integrating approaches to increase the proper and sustainable management of waste with all the representatives unanimously agreeing on the need to act now or else, face the blame from future generations.