Mixed reactions followed Environment Cabinet Secretary Judi Wakhungu’s notice to ban plastic bags.
In a February 28 notice published in the Kenya Gazette on Tuesday, Prof Wakhungu ordered polythene bags, commonly used to wrap foodstuff and shopping, done away with by August 28.
The CS banned “the use, manufacture and importation of all plastic bags used for commercial and household packaging”, which fall in two categories — carrier bags and flat bags.
A carrier bag is one that is “constructed with handles, and with or without gussets” while a flat bag is one “constructed without handles, and with or without gussets”. A gusset is defined as an extra piece of material joined with another to make it wider, stronger or more comfortable.
Prof Wakhungu’s announcement, which she shared on her Twitter handle on Wednesday, was received with cautious optimism.
The United Nations commended the government for the move, which comes just three weeks after UN Environment declared war against plastics through its “Clean Seas Initiative” was launched.
“Kenya is taking decisive action to remove an ugly stain on its outstanding natural beauty,” said Mr Erik Solheim, the executive director of UN Environment.
However, the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) said the ban would affect the country more negatively than positively.
“We have over 176 plastic manufacturing companies in Kenya which directly employ 2.89 per cent of all Kenyan employees and indirectly employ over 60,000 people,” said KAM in a statement. “These jobs and livelihoods will be negatively affected.”
KAM also argued that the notice of six months was not enough for the affected firms to clear stocks and close shop or for the country to find a suitable alternative to plastic bags.
This is the third attempt by the government since 2005 to rein in the plastic bag menace, which has been associated with adverse environmental effects.
In 2005, the Mwai Kibaki regime came up with a 10-point plan aimed at addressing plastic waste. Plastics under 30 microns thick were banned and a plastic recycling firm created that soon ran into headwinds.
In 2007, then-Finance minister Amos Kimunya banned manufacture of polythene bags below 30 microns and introduced a 120 per cent excise duty on them. But traders protested, forcing Parliament’s Committee on Trade and Finance to introduce a green tax instead.
Four years later, the National Environmental Management Agency (Nema) slapped a ban on polythene bags below 60 microns and tasked the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) to execute it. The January 2011 move flopped.
Prof Wakhungu’s gazette notice, which hinges on the Environmental Management and Co-ordination Act, is however likely to meet opposition from the influential local polythene bag manufacturers.
A contact listing website, softkenya.com, says there are 38 firms in Kenya that manufacture polythene bags.
According to Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero, the city produces 1,700 tonnes of solid waste daily, much of that being plastics.
The East African Legislative Assembly seeks to ban the use of polythene bags across the region while some county assemblies — including Nairobi, Meru and Kisii — want to abolish them.
A petition started by Avaaz.org, a site where people sign up to push for diverse causes, “Kenya’s political leaders and heads of industry” are urged to phase out thin plastic bags “that are destroying our country”.
Its creator, Kanyiha MP, says 86,000 bags are handed out in Nairobi daily. They will present the petition to Industrialisation CS Adan Mohamed and the Kenya Association of Manufacturers.
By Wednesday, 2,384 out of a targeted 3,000 had signed up with the petition, clocking 454 signatures against a 100,000 target.