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MY WEEKEND: Plastics bags- Have we moved on?

Saturday September 2 2017

The government has imposed a ban on plastic

The government has imposed a ban on plastic bags in Kenya. Importers and retailers are unhappy. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

CAROLINE NJUNG'E
By CAROLINE NJUNG'E
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Generally, Kenyans, including me, are a whiny lot – okay, I will be fair and say that whining is a common characteristic in human beings.

Now that I have made that important clarification, I expected us to throw elaborate tantrums when the government announced that starting August 28, single use plastic bags was banned. Anyone producing, selling or even using these bags would risk imprisonment of up to four years or a fine of up to Sh4 million, making ours the world’s toughest law aimed at reducing plastic pollution.

I expected country-wide whining, sorry, protest, because plastic bags have been a national treasure for decades, a basic commodity that we had so tightly woven into our everyday life, it would have been inconceivable that a day would come when we no longer used them. And yet here we are, and Kenyans who would frantically fish plastic bags from their handbags immediately it started drizzling to cover their hair are strangely quiet. So are those who used them in place of lost bottle tops. And those who used them to repair leaking taps and pipes. And leaking ceilings.

My grandmother has also not said a word. Whenever I visit her, I would rather go empty-handed than forget to take her plastic bags because I will never hear the end of it. Sometimes I feel she values the bags more than the shopping I take her. That is why I was surprised when she called me on Tuesday last week yet did not mention anything about the ban, and yet she follows the news religiously.

Even I, whiner number one, have been strangely subdued in the wake of this ban, and apart from occasional panic about how I will store the githeri I will boil once the stash I have is finished, I am taking this development surprisingly well. I find the numerous memes doing rounds on social media about this subject hilarious, and was tickled silly by the Kenyan woman who asked whoever borrowed the kiondo, (basket) she received on her wedding day to return it.

I think we all understand the devastating effect that these bags have had on our environment, and for once in a long time, even as we sympathise with the thousands that have lost their jobs, and the many business people that have been forced to close shop, we are in agreement that in the long-run, this ban will be good for this country – isn’t it shocking that it takes between 500 to 1,000 years to break down plastic bags?

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The challenge most Kenyans are having at the moment is what to carry their shopping with, especially those buying in bulk. On Tuesday evening, I saw a Tusky’s Supermarket attendant helping a customer wheel a trolleyful of shopping down Tom Mboya Street, probably to the customer’s car, where he would proceed to dump the shopping in the boot. Bearing in mind how busy that street is, there was nothing stopping a thief from dipping into the trolley and picking whatever he wanted, which was lying there for all to see. I could also not help visualising the man getting home, calling his entire family and asking them to each pick an armful of shopping until they cleaned out the boot.

It takes time to adapt to change, but eventually, we will get the hang of things.

 

[email protected]; Twitter: @cnjerius. The writer is the editor, MyNetwork, in the Daily Nation

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