Today, the Kenyan earth breathes a little more deeply, the trees extend their roots. The elephants, rhinos, zebras, giraffes, lions and other friends are having a big party because the Government has prohibited the manufacturing, importation, and commercial use of plastic bags in the country.
Already, there are no excuses. After years of delaying the measure by imposing multiple resources, it seems the environment won the battle. This is what NEMA (National Environmental Management Authority) has said to us through a text message which was sent to everyone with a registered line in the country.
The Minister of the Environment, Judy Wakhungu, says a plastic bag takes between 20 and 1000 years to biodegrade and it is estimated that Kenyans use more than 280 million bags per year, 100 of which are produced by supermarkets and stores. There is no need to do a lot of math in order to realize that this trash, which is hard to recycle, is a big problem for waste management and more than that, an “environmental nightmare”.
Through the grace period, whoever is caught producing, selling, or carrying plastic bags, may be fined up to $38,000 or be sentenced to up to 4 years in jail. Kenya is not the first African country to adopt this measure: Uganda, Rwanda, Mauritania, and Eritrea are some that have come forward: althought this is the third attempt to apply this law in the country in the last 10 years.
Of course, the application of this law also has some cons and opponents. The businesses that produce plastic bags in the country have estimated that the prohibition will destroy 80,000 jobs that will have to be relocated to other sectors.
However, the commercial interest should not be a priority when applying governmental measures. The problem of waste management not only has environmental impacts, but also directly affects public health. Animals usually graze in the trash and the UN Program for the Environment says that the large quantity of polyethylene bags are taken from the cattle in Nairobi slaughterhouses, increasing fears of plastic contamination in meat.
For all of these reasons, the majority of shops such as supermarkets have already begun to distribute free paper bags and reusable cloth bags at low costs. Even small stores have begun to apply the same measures.
From KABUKA, and especially from our KLEANBERA RECYCLING project, we strongly support the measure. Although, in recent years, we have tried to carry out some awareness activities in Kibera to reduce the accumulation of these wastes such as voluntary cleanings, eco-brick workshops with the children, and construction of latrines with recycled plastics.