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WHAT DOES THE PLASTIC BAN MEAN FOR KENYANS?

The Kenya Ministry responsible for Environment and Natural Resources (MENR), through the Cabinet Secretary, Professor Judy Wakhungu, has announced a ban on polythene bags set to be effected from September 1, 2017. This ban will Reduce generation of plastic waste, Encourage Reuse of existing polythene bags and Adoption of alternatives to plastic bags which are environmental friendly (bio-degradable).

Notably, between 2007 – 2011, the MENR effected a ban on plastics that focussed on reducing the thickness of plastics bags from 60 microns to 30 microns. The plastic ban to be effected in 2017 seeks to stop supply, distribution and use of plastic bags in Kenya. This is in response to the increased plastic litter witnessed in our neighbourhoods, towns, cities, institutions, drainage systems, roads, waterbodies among others.

This initiative seeks to promote a way of life that will transform areas in Kenya into “Green villages, Green towns, Green Cities, Green Sub-Counties, Green Counties” hence achieve a Green economy.  This requires instilling the 3 Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) in our way of life.

The Kenya 2017 Plastic ban has been applauded and criticised in equal measure. For instance, the devil’s advocate may argue that:-

  1. The Government’s waste management systems have failed hence banning plastic bags will not improve the situation instead, privatising this sub-sector will yield results
  2. Supplier’s and Consumer’s choice of material (plastics versus biodegradables) and where and how to dispose plastic waste is an issue that should be nurtured from an early age but greatly lacks in Kenya– evident by the amount of plastic litter intentionally disposed on our roads, water bodies, drainage systems hence we are beyond redemption
  3. Plastic bags contribute heftily to Kenya’s economy hence this ban will add to the already dire unemployment issue facing the country
  4. Why ban plastic bags only? – also ban plastic bottles for maximum impact.

Despite numerous reasons cited as to why this ban will fail and/or should not be effected, it is indisputable that banning plastic bags will generate numerous opportunities e.g.

  1. A clean environment that is litter free, functional drainage systems since there are minimal plastic bags clogging movement of water and sewerage, and enhanced environmental aesthetics.
  2. Healthy ecosystems and human well-being whilst achieving economic growth.
  3. Employment and business opportunities for suppliers of bio-degradable bags, super markets and shop-keepers; and including hawkers selling the bio-degradable bags.

I acknowledge that the benefit of this ban will take time, and I believe the fear of changing our normal routine/way of doing things, impatience and pursuit for personal economic gain without considering sustainability and wellbeing of mother nature, is probably what is clouding the judgment of most “Anti-plastic bags ban advocates”. However, Anti-plastic bags ban advocates fail to realise Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned - in this case, Mother Nature. She will continue to care and provide if we utilize resources in a manner that caters for current and future generations. Banning plastics is a huge stride in the right direction.

IMPLEMENTATION OF THE PLASTIC BAN

How exactly will this ban be implemented, and what alternatives are available to us has been weighing heavily on my mind.  I can see how the polythene bags will be replaced in supermarkets and other retail outlets.  Bags made of cotton, jute and synthetic but non-polythene materials are available for purchase in these retail outlets and other shops. That’s the easy part.  What about all the other ways in which we use plastic bags? When I look at my day, it’s virtually full of them.

I wake up very early to get ready for work. I open a new packet of soap for my hot shower. The soap has an outer cardboard package and an inner plastic cover. Will this plastic be removed from September? Will this affect the quality of my soap? I hope not.  I throw the packaging into a trash can, which I have lined with a plastic bag from a supermarket, for easy removal. What will I use after September?  On my way out of the house, I throw the trash into a plastic bag and leave it on the side of the road for easy collection by the trash collection company. From September, which type of “bag” will I use to throw garbage?

At the bakery near the office, I buy pastry, which is wrapped in plastic for easy carrying.  I also buy a few lemons from the mama mboga for my tea. These are wrapped in plastic. She wraps all her goods in plastic. What will she use from September?  Will vegetables become more expensive if she uses more expensive packaging, or will I need to carry a bag?  Will we still be allowed to use recycled plastic papers which we got before September? Will I need to carry five bags to separate my groceries?

What I’m saying is that we need guidance. Yes, we’ll comply with the ban, but how?  It’s as if we are waiting for September to see how things will go, which is wrong because this is a big change. We should be prepared in advance.

Suddenly we won’t have plastics, and won’t know what else to use.  Even at work, when a new policy is put in place, clear guidelines are provided on how it will be implemented.  Changes are introduced gradually, and alternatives given, learnt and applied incrementally.  Training is provided as necessary, to ensure a smooth transition.  This change that will be brought about by the ban on plastics is very good, but even if we’re willing to adopt it, it needs to be introduced gradually.

Information should be provided concerning its effect on the formal and informal aspects of our lives.  If not, then effecting this ban will be a challenge because there will be a lot of resistance. Not because people disagree with the ban, but because they will not know what alternatives they have. AWARENESS IS CRUCIAL.

By Charity Khainja,
Climate Change & Environment Consultant