Plastic bags are a serious environmental hazard as it is estimated that they take between 20 and 1,000 years to biodegrade and even enter the human food chain through fish and other animals. In February 2017, Kenya passed the new approach of banning plastic bags, to contribute to a healthy environment, which came into effect on 28 August 2017. The ban is known as the toughest law on plastic bags as it comes with high penalties and addresses the worldwide environmental pollution through the production, use and waste of plastic bags.
- The policy bans the use, manufacture and importation of all plastic bags used for commercial and household packaging, breaking the law comes with strict penalties.
- Plastic bags, which are in prolific use in Kenya, present a serious environmental hazard, with widespread littering, entering the human food chain through fish and other animals.
- The ban aims to avoid negative health and environmental effects resulting from the use of plastic bags which are estimated to take between 20 and 1,000 years to biodegrade.
National Environment Policy, Ministry Of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, 2013
Kenya’s pioneering plastic bag ban is the world’s toughest law aimed at reducing plastic pollution. It was passed in February of 2017 and came into effect on 28 August 2017, to allow Kenyan consumers some time to adjust to the change.
The policy sets a leading example in the combat of the destruction of ecosystems and biodiversity. Plastic bag litter not only pollutes the air, but oceans and soils, too. Estimated to take between 20 and 1,000 years to biodegrade, their particles will still harm the environment after centuries. Through the implementation of the ban, the Kenyan Government helps to mitigate environmental pollution, dependence on plastic, as well as the overuse of natural resources.
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- Plastic bags are created using fossil fuels and also require vast amounts of water and energy in order to have them manufactured and shipped. The production requires the use of billions of pounds of fossil fuels as well as billions of gallons of fresh water. The manufacturing process results in billions of pounds of solid waste and millions of tons of CO2 every year. The Kenyan Government has encouraged people to use more environmentally friendly alternatives to plastic, including bags made of paper, cloth and sisal or a plant with stiff leaves.
- In the short-term, the banning of plastic bags may negatively impact on jobs but in the long-term it will benefit the Kenyan economy by opening new markets. Those that previously manufactured plastic bags will now switch to manufacturing alternative, more sustainable bags. This can enhance more sustained and sustainable economic growth and can secure jobs for the future.
- The ban minimizes the amount of plastic bags entering the human food chain through fish and other animals and reduces the pollution of air, soils and oceans.
- Through the establishment of the new rule further unsustainable use of natural resources will be mitigated.
- The new ban gave Kenyan people a chance to adjust to the change by not going into effect immediately after the announcement, but 6 months later.
- Kenya’s National Environmental Management Authority is supporting a campaign named the “take-bag” scheme. The campaign asks Kenyans to bring their own cloth bags or baskets from home.
- Since previous attempts of banning plastic bags from the market with tax increases and special bans for certain kinds of them weren’t successful, Kenya needed a more powerful rule to succeed. It is the first that indeed accomplished to stop the production and use of plastic bags in Kenya and thereby secures the health of the population.
- Due to the six months wait of the Government to bring the ban into force, the Kenyans had a long period to adjust to the new rule and buy environmental friendly bags as alternatives.
- The ban is known as the toughest law on plastic bags as it comes with high penalties. Anyone producing, selling or even using plastic bags will risk imprisonment of up to four years or fines of $38,000. Kenya’s law allows the police to go after anyone even carrying a plastic bag.
- It will be a challenge for Kenyans to adapt to the new regulation, but in the long-term the ban will create more employment. It opens a new market for those industries that before manufactured plastic bags. Now they will switch to manufacturing eco-friendly bags and save a significant amount of jobs.
- Kenyans start using alternatives to plastic bags and adjust themselves to the circumstances.
- Since the policy addresses the worldwide environmental pollution through the production, use and waste of plastic bags, it can be seen as part of the global effort for climate protection, ending the dependence on plastic and reducing pollution. It will not only stabilize the ecosystems and biodiversity but improve the health of Kenyans as well.
- The policy can lead to economic growth and can be the stepping stone for new business paths.
- The problem of plastic waste isn’t limited to Kenya. All over the world, plastic items are damaging ecosystems and biodiversity and harming the environment by clogging oceans and killing marine life.
- Since Kenya is a major exporter of plastic bags in the region there is a grand necessity for them to stop (or at least mitigate) the production and the use of them to not harm the environment any further.
The history of plastic bags goes back to the 1970s when they were first introduced in Kenya. Today they are the ubiquitous items that account for four out of every five bags handed out at a grocery store. Plastic bags are a serious environmental hazard as it is estimated that they take between 20 and 1,000 years to biodegrade and even enter the human food chain through fish and other animals. In Nairobi’s slaughterhouses, some cows destined for human consumption had 20 bags removed from their stomachs. Many bags drift into the ocean, strangling turtles, suffocating seabirds and filling the stomachs of dolphins and whales with waste until they die of starvation. More than 8 million tonnes of plastic every year end up in the oceans and affect marine life, fisheries and tourism. Going by current rates, if we continue like this, by 2050 we will have more plastic in the ocean than fish.
Across Kenya piles of waste plastic bags are a common sight, similar to many other countries. According to the United Nations, Kenyan shoppers are estimated to use 100 million plastic bags a year, which is a considerable amount.
The need for a functional plastic waste management is urgent. In 2005 the Government developed a 10-point plastic waste management strategy that sought to ban all plastics under 30 microns thickness and the development of a plastic recycling strategy, but the project collapsed almost immediately.
In 2007 Finance Minister Amos Kimunya introduced a 120 per cent excise duty on plastic bags below 30 microns thickness but as a result of widespread protests by traders the Parliament’s Committee on Trade and Finance was forced to introduce a green tax instead.
In 2011, an attempt by the National Environment Management Authority and the Kenya Bureau of Standards to ban plastics below 60 microns, also failed.
Finally in February 2017, the Government managed to pass the new approach of banning plastic bags, to contribute to a healthy environment, which came into effect on 28 August 2017.
National Environment Management Authority says in their press statement:
The purpose of the Government to ban the use of plastic bags is to avoid health and environmental effects resulting from the use of plastic bags. These effects include,
- The inability of plastic bags to decompose and thus affecting soil quality;
- The littering of such bags at various parts of the country;
- The blockage of sewerage and water drainage infrastructure causing floods during the raining season;
- Damage of ecosystems and biodiversity due to plastics bags,
- Death of animals after consuming plastic material;
- Endangering human health when used for packaging food in particular hot food;
- Poisonous gaseous and when used as fuel to light charcoal; and
- Air pollution when disposed by burning in open air
The ban is known as the toughest law on plastic bags as it comes with high penalties. Anyone producing, selling or even using plastic bags will risk imprisonment of up to four years or fines of $38,000. Kenya’s law allows the police to go after anyone even carrying a plastic bag.
The ban is primarily aimed at manufacturers and suppliers. Plastic bags used for industrial packaging are exempted if they are used for industrial primary packaging at the source of the product and are not available on sale or given freely outside the industrial setting. Flat bags used as waste liners for hazardous waste, including medical waste and chemicals and regular waste garbage bin liners, are also exempt from the ban.
To help people to dispose of their now illegal plastic bags, Kenya’s National Environment Management Authority has installed collection centers in all major retail outlets around the country.
The Kenyan Government has encouraged people to use reusable alternatives, including bags made of paper, cloth and sisal, a plant with stiff leaves.
Due to the fact that the law was just recently established, until now it has had limited impact on the country, the Kenyan people and the environment. However, changes in society predict that bigger effects are yet to come.
Kenyans are slowly getting used to carrying their shopping using bags made from materials other than plastic. They adapt to the new role by creating alternatives like old sacks, newspapers or dried banana leaves. Big Kenyan supermarket chains like France’s Carrefour and Nakumatt have already started offering customers cloth bags as alternatives.
Even tourists coming into Kenya with duty-free plastic shop bags will be required to leave them at the airport under the new rules and garbage bags will be taken off supermarket shelves.
The regulation opens a whole new market for the Kenyan economy, the production of eco-friendly bags, and will thereby create new jobs.
Even though the problem may not be as severe in other nations, Kenya isn’t the first nation to ban plastic bags, but joins more than 40 countries that have already established similar laws e.g. China, Italy, Rwanda and France.
The spread of related approaches demonstrates the flexibility and adaptiveness of the concept of banning plastic. It shows that even a more restrictive and consequent policy like the Kenyan model can be transferred to other countries.