The ban on plastic bags in Kenya was gazetted by the cabinet secretary for environment, Prof Judy Wakhungu on the 4/3/2017 and was implemented on 28/8/2017. As always, a good number of Kenyans thought that the law on the ban of plastic bags wouldn’t be implemented or rather were waiting to see what would happen on the set date. And by the way almost everything in Kenya is carried or packaged in plastic bags. Right from the products we consume to the clothes we wear. In fact, they say that a real Kenyan is one who has a plastic bag full of plastic bags in the house. This might apply mostly to women who do most of the house shopping. This transition was definitely going to be challenging and is going to take a long time for the Kenyan people to fully adapt.
The ban entails the use, manufacture and importation of all plastic bags in Kenya. The ban which was implemented on Monday this week made some Kenyans feel lost and devastated especially when it comes to purchasing groceries and stuff like meat. Some people even jokingly suggested that we carry our sufurias to the butchery. Both the retailers and customers were confused on what to use instead of plastic bags. This was due to the fact that NEMA did not clearly state or offer the alternatives to the plastic bags. For instance, the people who sell bone soup, cooked githeri and cut sukumawiki have no idea where to keep their products yet they have to sell. They have complained on how their businesses are being affected and asking for the government to provide alternatives as soon as possible. Since its implementation, some Kenyans believe that it will be a waste of time and it will only take effect on the first few months just like what happened with the burn of smoking of cigarettes publicly. While others think it’s going to take off just like digital migration.
I believe that the ban on the use, manufacture and distribution of plastic bags is a great initiative by the Kenyan government and it will help to reduce pollution in the country. As you walk through major cities and towns in Kenya, you can’t miss to see blocked sewerage and plastic bags strewn all over. In fact I believe the former governor for Nairobi county was not given a second term due to the piles of garbage (majority of which consisted plastic bags) in different parts of the city.
NEMA being the government agency responsible for the enhancement of environment policies in Kenya were the first people to organize the implementation of the ban of plastic bags. It is quite unfortunate that the organization has not been able to provide alternative options for the plastic bags. This has led to a not so easy transition for many Kenyans. NEMA should have provided sample bags that are acceptable and biodegradable for free for at least a week or a number of days or so to help in the transition. According to section 86 of the constitution on the standards of waste, NEMA should have identified items that are not environmental friendly and issue guidelines on how to store and destroy the existing plastic bags and advise on the means to dispose waste. And clearly they haven’t and this shows a major fail on their part.
It’s good that some manufacturers and early adopters of the ban have come up with alternatives including woven bags and paper bags that are environmentally friendly. I bought meat the other day and it was wrapped in a Khaki paper. Problem would be in the case of large quantities. Nakumatt supermarket also have nice paper bags so are some of the other supermarkets. But some of these come at a cost. Solution, carry your own bag when going for shopping because retailers will sell you theirs every time you go to shop.
So many other retailers are still having a problem on the right alternative to use, an affordable alternative for that matter.
NEMA should have also taken their time to educate the Kenyan people about the ban on plastic bags. Some Kenyans really don’t understand what the ban entails and the consequences of using the plastic bags. NEMA should also set out guidelines that will guide the Kenyan people on the dos and don’t of the new environmental friendly bags so as to help in the transition.
I Look forward to the day that the only dirt on the streets of Nairobi would be dust. I do believe it is possible and it starts with us especially those who throw food wrappers out of moving vehicles. A Kenya which is plastic bag free is quite a beautiful site and it is one to be envied by every Kenyan citizen. Don’t wait to be caught for you to transition . Welcome to a clean future where plastic will define smiles and surgeries and not bags..