Traders have been taking advantage of porous borders to bring in plastic bags despite a ban.
In Migori and Busia counties, the Nation found residents using the banned bags ferried from Tanzania and Uganda.
In Isibania and Migori towns, the traders kept the bags off display to avoid detection and only removed them when serving customers.
The traders, however, informed customers to carry the bags visibly at their own risk, an indication they were aware of the ban.
Vegetable and fish vendors in these towns are the most notorious.
“It is hard to pack freshly cut vegetables in an old newspaper. It is even unhealthy to do so. Our customers do not carry containers and we resort to the plastic bags in a bid to attract customers,” said a vendor at Isibania as she packed vegetables for a customer.
Another food vendor at Ntimaru in Kuria East said: “I sell boiled eggs with kachumbari. I tried serving the food on old newspapers but customers were not happy. I resorted to plastic bags which I buy from across the border.”
The Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) recently installed a one-stop border-post in Isibania and, therefore, traders used unofficial (panya) routes to smuggle the bags through Gwitembe, Ntimaru and Getambegwa on the Kenya-Tanzania border. And, when the traders used the Isibania border, our team found that they hid the plastic bags among other merchandise to escape the scrutiny of customs officials.
The story was the same in Busia County.
Traders were still using the plastic bags to package charcoal and foods such as chips, fruits, water and juice.
At Bumala market, women packaged fruits in the bags, especially in the evening, even though they warned customers it was illegal.
Officials said they were aware of the problem and had been sealing the loopholes. Mr Edward Menza, the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) director in Busia, admitted porous borders were a challenge to the ban, but also blamed ignorance among Kenyans.
“Most people do not know the difference between primary and secondary packaging,” he said. “But, we are alert in reinforcing the directive and last Thursday we managed to confiscate a consignment of 30,000 bags.”
Except for industrial packaging such as in bread, soap, medical products and others, use of plastic bags has been banned.
KRA deputy commissioner for western region Kevin Safari said his team was carrying out checks at border points.
“We are stopping buses and trucks for scrutiny. We have managed to impound several trucks full of polythene bags from Uganda. We will destroy the contraband goods,” he said.
But traders who spoke to the Nation in confidence said they were forced to continue using the prohibited bags due to the costly price of eco-friendly ones.
“We get these bags from Uganda at a cheaper price compared to the eco-friendly ones. We are aware it is illegal to use the bags. We appeal to the government to provide cheaper ones,” said a fruit vendor in Busia town.
Officials who spoke to the Nation said the ban will be more effective if all countries in the East African Community impose similar laws with similar penalties.
Uganda tried that ban in 2014, but plastics have mainly crept back in shops there even as the ban remains officially in place. Rwanda is the only country which has successfully imposed the ban and travellers arriving at the country’s ports of entry are often asked to relinquish any plastics before entry. Tanzania and South Sudan are yet to enforce the ban.
Migori Nema director Parnwell Simitu told border officials to support enforcement of the ban by being more vigilant to ensure no illegal bags find their way into the county.
In Mombasa, 29 people were yesterday fined Sh50,000 each or serve one year in jail after they were found with plastic bags. The 29 pleaded guilty.
Three other people who denied the charge before a Mombasa court were released on a Sh400,000 bond.
The suspects were arrested on Monday during a crackdown mounted by Nema officials and the county inspectorate department in Majengo market and Tudor.
In Machakos County, seven traders were Tuesday arrested at Masii market after they were found with plastic bags. The seven were arrested in a crackdown spearheaded by Mwala police boss Henry Kimathi. They were detained at Masii police station awaiting charges.
Mr Kimathi said the grace period given by the government for the eradication of plastic bags had ended. He said those who continued to flout the regulation were mostly greengrocers who used the bags to package vegetables.
“Those still dealing with the banned plastic bags are mostly mama mbogas and muguka sellers. We have been warning them but they seem not to be heeding our warning,” said Mr Kimathi.
Reported by Gaitano Pessa, Vivere Nandiemo, Brian Ocharo, Stephen Muthini and Wachira Mwangi