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War on plastics far from over despite Kenya’s ban on bags

Sunday December 10 2017

Judy Wakhungu

Environment Cabinet Secretary Judy Wakhungu (right) with chairman of Friends of Karura Karanja Njoroge during plastic clean-up in September 2017. After a ban on plastic carrier bags, environmental experts seek to know how the government will deal with plastic paper used to package bread, sweets and milk. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Kenya might have succeeded in banning plastic bags that were handed out at supermarkets and other shopping outlets but leaders appear to be in a dilemma over the use of plastics in other areas.

The concern was raised at a meeting held in Nairobi that was attended by environmental experts, policymakers and activists from around the world.

At the forum that ended on Wednesday, Kenya won praise over the plastic bags ban.

However, environmental experts sought to know how the government would deal with plastic paper used to package bread, sweets and milk.

The question raised was whether the food packaging bags will not be a major setback to the country’s efforts to have a plastic-free environment.



The fast-moving products create a situation where a lot of plastic material is released into the environment daily considering that almost every household buys bread or a packet of milk each day.

In Kenya, more than 24 million plastic bags were used daily.

To appreciate the extent of the problem, there is need to take a closer look at Nairobi, which has a population of more than three million.

Data from the Kenya Bureau of Statistics shows that Nairobi has 985,016 households, according to the 2009 census.

Considering each household buys two packets of milk and two loaves of bread each day, more than 3.9 million plastic papers are released into the environment daily.


Plastic bottles, which form a huge percentage of solid waste scattered all over the place, are also a major threat to the environment.

The delegates sought to know how Kenya will address the menace.

Data from the Environment ministry indicates that approximately 50 million bottles are used annually throughout the country.

The way the bottles are disposed of results in environmental pollution.

African countries such as Uganda, Cameroon, South Africa, Angola and Senegal, among others, are still struggling to find ways of dealing with plastic carrier bags and flat ones.

These countries sought to know what the Kenyan Government will do to sustain the ban.


There are other countries, including Uganda, that have unsuccessfully tried to ban plastic bags.

Apart from Rwanda and Kenya, other East African countries such as Tanzania and Burundi are yet to ban the use of plastic bags.

The third United Nations Environment Assembly at the UN offices in Gigiri brought together more than 4,000 heads of state, ministers, business leaders, UN officials and civil society representatives to tackle the global menace of pollution.

Addressing the delegates during a session focusing on Kenya’s move to ban plastics, National Environment Management Authority (Nema) director Geoffrey Wahungu said the agency had put in place strict measures to deal with the issue of plastic waste in totality.


Prof Wahungu said as a follow-up, Nema had given bread manufactures six months to look for alternatives and phase out the plastic bags.

“We have a technical committee to address the issue of plastic bags used to package bread. We have told them to find an alternative material and if they do not, we will ban them. This is because we are striving for a plastic-free environment,” said Prof Wahungu.

According to Prof Wahungu, 60 arrests have been made so far. Among them were three manufactures and six producers.

A man was this week fined Sh100,000 by a Kibera court for manufacturing plastic bags in Nairobi’s Industrial Area.


Environment Cabinet Secretary Judi Wakhungu said plastic waste near national parks and major highways was defacing nature and the scenic beauty of the country, which is a popular tourist destination.

She said Sh3 million used to be spent to collect plastic litter from the Nakuru National Park every three months.

“Our resolve to ban plastic bags was informed by scientific evidence on the negative effects of the material,” she said.

The main challenges in the use of plastic bags in Kenya included the inability of the material to decompose, the negative aesthetic cost from littering, blockage of sewage and water drainage infrastructure, public health costs, pollution of the coastal marine environment, the death of livestock as well as wild animals, and air pollution.

As part of its commitment on the matter, the Kenyan Government has been working with the Kenya Airports Authority to confiscate plastic bags from travellers entering the country.


The Health ministry has also agreed to stop the use of plastic bags and embrace alternatives.

The Transport and Infrastructure ministry also committed itself to providing sites for waste disposal and ensure public vehicles have waste disposal receptacles.

President Uhuru Kenyatta told other countries to emulate Kenya on the plastic bags ban.

He said more policies will be put in place to ensure a pollution-free environment in the country.

Mr Samuel Matonda, the coordinator of the Kenya Association of Manufactures Responsible Care programme, said there is need for all government agencies and the private sector to come together and come up with policies on plastics.


“We need to have policies that cut across all sectors to ensure these plastics are recycled,” he said.

Retail Traders Association chief executive Wambui Mbarire said supermarkets are working with manufactures to have take-back schemes for plastics bags and bottles that litter the environment.

“This is something that the world should emulate. We, as traders, are committed to initiating the process and work with the government to clear all plastic waste in the environment,” she said.

United Nations Environment director and regional representative for Africa Juliette Biao said the UN is committed to working with Kenya for a pollution-free environment.

“All other countries across the world should follow the Kenya example and ban plastics as they are a major threat to our environment,” she said.

Plastic bags were introduced in Kenya in the 1960s as a simple solution for packaging but have become a major source of pollution.