Kenya bans plastic bags


NAIROBI. — Kenyans producing, selling or even using plastic bags will risk imprisonment of up to four years or fines of $40 000 from yesterday, as the world’s toughest law aimed at reducing plastic pollution came into effect.

Importation of plastics will attract a minimum fine of about $17 000 or two years imprisonment, according to the Kenyan government. Exemptions were made for those producing plastic bags used for industrial purposes. The East African nation joins more than 40 other countries that have banned, partly banned or taxed single use plastic bags, including China, France and Italy.

Rwanda, Cameroon, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, Mauritania and Malawi are among other African countries that have adopted or announced such bans. Some 100 million plastic bags are handed out every year in Kenya by supermarkets alone, according to the UN Environmental Programme.

The Kenyan government says the bags harm the environment, block sewers and don’t decompose. Many bags drift into the ocean, strangling turtles, suffocating sea birds and filling the stomachs of dolphins and whales with waste until they die of starvation.

“If we continue like this, by 2050, we will have more plastic in the ocean than fish,” said Habib El-Habr, an expert on marine litter working with the UN Environment Programme in Kenya.

Plastic bags, which El-Habr says take between 500 to 1 000 years to break down, also enter the human food chain through fish and other animals. In Nairobi’s slaughterhouses, some cows destined for human consumption had 20 bags removed from their stomachs.

“This is something we didn’t get 10 years ago, but now its almost on a daily basis,” said county vet Mbuthi Kinyanjui as he watched men in bloodied white uniforms scoop sodden plastic bags from the stomachs of cow carcasses.

Kenya’s law allows police to go after anyone even carrying a plastic bag. But Judy Wakhungu the environment minister, said enforcement would initially be directed at manufacturers and suppliers. “Ordinary wananchi will not be harmed,” she told Reuters, using a Kiswahili word for “common man”.

It took Kenya three attempts over 10 years to finally pass the ban and not everyone is a fan. But Samuel Matonda, spokesman for the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, said it would cost 60 000 jobs and force 176 manufacturers to close. Kenya is a major exporter of plastic bags to the region.

“The knock-on effects will be very severe,” Matonda said. “It will even affect the women who sell vegetables in the market — how will their customers carry their shopping home?”

However, environment minister Wakhungu last week said more jobs will be created from making bags from environment friendly materials. Big Kenyan supermarket chains like France’s Carrefour and Nakumatt have already started offering customers cloth bags as alternatives. — Reuters/AP/HR. (source: The Herald)

August 2017
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