By Socrates Mbamalu
Kenya now has the toughest laws against plastic bags. This week the country banned the use, manufacture, and importation of all plastic bags used for commercial and household packaging.The ban has been applauded as a step in the right direction to protect the environment.
Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Natural Resources, Judi Wakhungu notified the public through The Kenya Gazette on the banned use, manufacture, and importation of all plastic bags used for commercial and household packaging.
The plastic ban is reported to be the world’s toughest law against plastic bags. The ban which took effect this week has gained a large support from environmentalists and the Council of Governors who pledged to create awareness on the ban and provide alternatives such as the Manila paper, canvas, jute and biodegradable plastics.
Anyone who contravenes the ban is liable to pay a fine of not less than $19,000 (2 million Kenya shillings) and not more than $38,000 (4 million Kenya shillings), or face a jail term between two and four years, or both fine and imprisonment.
Plastic bags take 500 to 1000 years to breakdown. There have been reports of plastic bags found inside animals. In a BBC interview, Wakhungu said “Plastic bags now constitute the biggest challenge to solid waste management in Kenya. This has become our environmental nightmare that we must defeat by all means.”
The ban has been challenged by manufacturers of plastic bags, who went to court to seek a redress on the ban. The court however rejected the challenge stating that environmental concerns were more important than commercial gain. According to EcoWatch, it has taken the Kenyan government three attempts over the past 10 years to pass the ban. Other African countries with this law include Rwanda, Mauritania and Eritrea.
The Green Belt Movement (GBM) an environmental organization that empowers communities, particularly women, to conserve the environment and improve livelihoods, founded by the late Prof. Wangari Maathai is one of the organisations supporting the ban. In a press release, the organisation said, “Drainages in our towns remain clogged…Open burning of plastic bags produces dangerous chemicals (furans and dioxins) which are not only harmful to the environment but also to human health…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…choking marine animals; leading to their death after consuming plastic materials.”
For many country across the continent where plastic waste continue to negatively affect the environment, following Kenya’s footpath to save the environment is a necessity.