Kenya’s War On Plastic Bags: Round Three

Kenya has announced a ban on the use, manufacture and importation of all plastic bags. According to the gazette notice issued by the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and National Resources, the ban will take effect 6 months from 28th February 2017. The ban encapsulates carrier and flat plastic bags for both domestic and commercial use.

According to the UN, 100 million plastic bags are handed out every year in Kenya by supermarkets alone. These bags cause environmental damage and health problems, kill birds, fish and other animals that mistake them for food, damage agricultural land, pollute tourist sites and provide breading grounds for disease causing mosquitoes. They also contribute to the 8 million tonnes of plastic that leak into the ocean every year. The UN has declared a war on plastic through it Clean Seas initiative and with its recent ban, Kenya became the 11th country to take action in support of this campaign.

The ban, if well implemented and strongly enforced will be a great boon for Kenya’s environment. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Kenya has attempted to curb the scourge of the plastic bag. In 2007, the government banned plastic bags below 0.3 millimeters in thickness and in 2011, NEMA declared a ban on plastic bags below 0.6 millimeters in thickness. Both of these bans failed. Time will tell if this recent ban will succeed.

Opposition to the ban has already reared its head. According to the 170 manufacturers of plastic bags, the ban will result in the loss of close to 100,000 jobs both directly and indirectly and cost the economy Ksh 5.26 billion. The manufacturers urge for a green tax to help manage plastic bag waste as well as a change in consumer behavoiur especially their throwaway habits as a more feasible solution to the issue rather than a blanket ban.

Rwanda banned plastic bags in 2008 and has been urging the members of the East African Community to follow suit. Hopefully, with Kenya’s recent ban on plastic bags, the rest of the East African region will announce their own bans leading to a more environmentally sound region.