Plastic materials offer a number of advantages over other conventional packaging materials. They are malleable, light, low cost and can be produced in a variety of shapes and sizes. Because of this, every year over 260 million tons of plastics are produced globally. Of this, nearly one trillion plastic bags are made and used. This makes them an important feature of the packaging sector. Plastic bags are an infamous problem in Nairobi. They clog its waterways and litter its streets.
The Kenyan government is attempting to ban their use from end August – with implications for businesses from supermarkets to recycler. The countdown is on until Kenya’s national ban on plastic bags takes effect, with retailers across the country instructed to be ready to comply with the new law when it goes into force on 28 August.
Many countries in the world, including Kenya, have faced challenges in disposing of the used bags. Many are thrown in the garbage and water streams, though the waste does not break down.
The ban, which is hailed by environmental activists as the magic towards addressing one of the major environmental menace in the country is likely to face serious resistance by various player. The Kenya Association of Manufacturers , for instance, has claimed the government’s directive to ban plastic bags beginning in September will hurt more than 170 companies and put at least 60,000 people out of work.
According to the United Nations environment agency, Kenyan supermarkets use 100 million plastic bags every year. You don’t need any magic to understand the obsession of plastic bags among Kenyans. A visit to any supermarket will reveal a very worrying trend among the Kenyan shoppers. No Kenyans visit a supermarket with a shopping bag. A shopper buying a loaf of bread and a washing soap will come out of a supermarket with two plastic bags.
The ministry of environment ban has totally banned the use, manufacture and importation of all plastic bags used for commercial and household packaging. Many people will find their way to prison or heavy fines for using plastic bags. You can just imagine the impact it will cause to both the consumers and manufacturers. And I recently became a victim. I walked into Nakumatt Ukay, took a trolley, shopped but got shocked when the cashier asked me for my shopping bag. It’s a new culture that will take many Kenyans years to adapt to.
We must all agree that plastic bags are the reason we have sewer blockages in major towns. It’s the reason we have polluted rivers in the country. Plastic waste also causes immeasurable damage to fragile ecosystems both on land and at sea and this decision is a major breakthrough in our global effort to turn the tide on plastic. We must all support.
The ban also provides an opportunity for Kenyan entrepreneurs to produce sustainable alternatives. It will also offer opportunities for traditional shopping bags like Okapu, Kiondos and others to find their way back into the local markets. In my home village of Nyakach, I expect my people to come up with creative and sustainable alternatives that will include the use of the water hyacinth in Lake Victoria.
Kenya is taking decisive action to remove an ugly stain on its outstanding natural beauty. We must all support this great initiative.