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The Plastic Bags Ban: Bold Move by Kenya; A Quest For Environmental Protection

Overview (Origin and intended purpose)

The invention of disposable bags in 1960s was meant to make lives easier as a key packaging material in several sectors of the economy.  In Just over half a century, plastics have become pervasive throughout the economy, due to their versatility and cost-effectiveness. Yet alongside clear benefits, today’s plastics system has significant drawbacks creating adverse effects on environment both terrestrial and marine as well as air pollution.

Current situation on Plastics

Today there are no global standards on production of plastics; plastics are literally everywhere; from protecting food, making our planes lighter to helping wind turbines turn. According to a study published by Ellen MacArthur Foundation, only 14% of produced plastic packaging is recycled globally with plastic production projected to double in 20 years and quadruple by 2050.

As much as 20% of plastic packaging could be re-used, 50% of plastic packaging could be profitably recycled if improvements are made to their design and after-use systems. The remaining 30% of plastic packaging is currently by design destined for landfill or incineration, and requires fundamental redesign and innovation; otherwise they will never be recycled; this is a major contributor to air pollution and marine pollution and alternative like paper bags, sisal bags could help address this.

Kenya products 24 million bags per month; on estimate in 2010 – 2014 the annual plastic production growth was up 400,000 tonnes.

Action on Plastic Packaging

A number of companies and organizations are coming together to help re-make the plastic system; innovation, technology and widespread industry collaboration will be the key to unlocking a new plastics economy.  People all over the world are gathering up to clean beaches, as new technologies to remove plastics from oceans are being developed at large scale. As the demand for plastic bags is set to double, a more realistic approach on the root cause rather than the effects of plastic pollution should be applied. World Economic Forum on plastic packaging:

In Kenya, a gazette Notice No. 2356 was issued on 28th February 2017, notifying the public that with effect from 28th August 2017, there will be a ban on the use, manufacture and importation of all plastic bags used for commercial and household packaging. 

Pursuant to section 144 of EMCA, any person who contravenes the provision of the gazette notice shall be liable to a fine of not less than two (2) million Kenya Shillings, and not more than four (4) million Kenya shillings, or imprisonment of a term of not less than one (1) year but not more than two (2) years or to both such fine and imprisonment.

Reasons for ban

The global concern due to plastic materials has been;

  • Ocean dumping and pollution – Up to 32% of plastic packaging flows into the ocean. Ideally it’s like dumping into the ocean one garbage truck of plastic every minute.
  • Illegal mass burning of plastic a great cause of air pollution.

The reason for GoK ban on plastics is to avoid health and environmental effects. Some of this effects may include;-

  • Damage of ecosystems and biodiversity
  • Land degradation due to plastic bags’ in ability to decompose.
  • Blockage of sewage and water drainage infrastructure; a major contribution to flooding.
  • Pollution of marine environment; smoothening of corals and chocking of marine life.
  • Death of terrestrial animals due to plastic material consumption.

Trending topic on the ban

Kenya is joining its east African neighbors by announcing that starting this fall plastic bags will be illegal, which the government argues is the right thing to do. It also looks fashionable in the international circle as Kenya will be taking a drastic step.

But does it match up with reality?

Areas like Kibera use plastic bags for daily purposes like; used on roofs and on walls, for carrying produce. Some of this bags are biodegradable (Pee – Poo bags); residents in slums use them for human waste.

However, the failure of a system to collect the plastic and reuse it and make a value chain out of it beyond the first stage may be a fundamental reason to why the blanket ban on plastics may be a good call to rid the polythene menace and clean up the environment.

How best can we take care of the already existing mass graveyards of plastic residue in dumping sites and the environment at large?

Possible setbacks on ban implementation

Kenya has tried a ban on polythene bags twice; in 2007 and 2011 but had no success.

In 2007, plastic bags less than 30 microns thick were scheduled for ban but a threat from the manufacturers and retailers to pass on cost of using other material to consumers caused an uproar and hence failure to enforce the ban. Another attempt in 2011, where the ban on plastic bag manufacture and importation was witnessed; its implementation was poor despite the good intention of protection against the environmental hazard that plastic bags were becoming.

However, the latest measure is broader with the argument that it actually poses a real threat to health of citizens. Plastic bags have been implicated in recent outbreaks of cholera, where blocked drainage systems caused by the plastics has created a breading avenue for the water-borne disease. 

The action on ban given the risk on health and environmental obviously meets some setbacks.

The Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) say it will cost the Country a lot of jobs where the plastic bag production sector employs more than 60,000 people in the over 176 plastics factories. KAM also argues that a six month grace period is not adequate enough to clear their stocks.  Other actions speculated are the move to paper bags may add to the problem of deforestation.

GoK’s initiative to implement the ban and conform to the global initiative to address the menace of plastic bag, might as well be a beacon of hope for a polythene free country.

The question is whether Kenyans are ready for the move and will they accept it.

A case in point; Rwanda, who have applied the same ban are faced with challenges; since the ban was imposed, an underground industry emerged smuggling the bags from neighboring Congo.

Getting rid of plastics may be harder than it seems especially with international influence being there; as Kenya will be the second country joining Rwanda in the ban of plastic bags.

Frequently Asked Questions

Question1: Which plastics have been banned?


The ban applies to all plastic:

  1. Carrier bags, with handles and with or without gussets,
  1. Flat bags, which are all, used as secondary packaging material.
  2. Garbage Bags, sold for garbage storage.

Exemptions include:

  1. Material used for industrial primary packaging whereby the product is in direct contact with the plastic material;
  2. Self-cringing plastic material used for primary wrapping of some products.

Question 2: What are the alternatives to plastic carrier bags?

Answer: Paper bags; Clothing bags; Sisal bags; Papyrus bag; Buyers/shoppers own shopping bags;

Question 3: Which parties are affected?              

Answer: All who use plastic materials for secondary packaging– with no exception

Exemptions apply to only primary industrial packaging (i.e. direct packaging from factory, e.g. toothpaste)

Question 4: Are retailers allowed to use up existing stocks of plastic bags after August 28th 2017?

Answer: No, retailers should clear stocks within the grace period of six months after a gazette notice on Feb 28th 2017.  All manufacturers should ensure there are no remaining stocks by the due date otherwise it will be a loss on their side since no use after the due date will be allowed.

Question 5: When are manufacturers and importers required to stop providing plastic single-use carrier bags to customers?

Answer: By August 28th, 2017. Furthermore all manufacturers and importers shall declare all their remaining stocks by the due date to the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) for further necessary action.