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Why the plastic bag ban will not work in Kenya

Wednesday August 23 2017

A woman carries her shopping in an eco-friendly

A woman carries her shopping in an eco-friendly bag in Nakuru on August 23, 2017. The ban on plastic bags takes effect on August 28. PHOTOS | SILA KIPLAGAT | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece on the plastic bag ban that is to be effected as from August 28.

In that piece, I argued that unless some issues surrounding the ban are addressed in a realistic manner, the ban will not work.


Now four days to August 28, some of the issues I raised have not been addressed adequately.

I hate to be the one saying this but I think without addressing these issues adequately, the implementation of the ban is going to face big challenges.

Worse still, it may not work at all. I hope I am wrong.

It cannot be gainsaid that the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) has done a commendable job in raising awareness of the plastic bag ban.

At least every Kenyan with internet access now knows that there is a looming ban. This is a step towards the right direction.

But whether everyone understands why that’s necessary is a different story altogether. 


My hope is that from August 29 onwards, Kenya will be free of plastic bags. However, here’s why I think that will not be the case.

To begin with, viable alternatives are a critical part of this ban. Without proper alternatives, the ban is bound to fail.

As I write this, supermarkets have thrown their weight behind Nema and said they will support the ban.

This is good news and some supermarkets have already started using paper, netting and clothing bags. So as far as supermarkets go, alternatives are in place and many supermarkets will go through the transition effortlessly.

However, my worry is lack of alternatives in one category of plastic bags that plays a crucial role in our everyday lives.

This is the small flat bag used mostly in shops to divide basic goods into smaller quantities.


The bags are also a big part of the businesses of small grocery vendors.

So what happens to these people and their businesses? Furthermore, 56 per cent of Kenyans depend on this micro economy and buy their basic commodities in small quantities using this small flat bags.

An alternative that could work as good as the flat bag without absorbing water and with its enduring tear strength is needed.

As we speak, there is no suitable alternative provided for this crucial bag in the economy.

Garbage bags were another category affected by the ban but they are now exempt and they will continue being in use.

This exemption comes only a few days to effecting the ban after complaints from consumers. Just like the small flat bags, there were no alternatives.


Without proper alternatives, I foresee a scenario where there will be disregard for the ban by consumers.

They will seek to have the bags by any means if it means their businesses will stall.

This demand will mean that even if all manufacturers in Kenya stop producing and supplying plastic bags, an illicit business of these harmful products smuggled into the country will flourish.

I won’t be surprised if that happens.

Nema says those found with plastic bags, including manufacturers, after August 28 will be fined according to county bylaws.

In some instances, culprits will be fined up to Sh4 million or serve four years in jail. This does not auger well with everyone.


For instance, the Consumer Federation of Kenya has called the penalty on consumers “unrealistic and impractical.”

The penalty should ordinarily leave many Kenyans trembling in fear and looking away when they are tempted with a plastic bag.

Something tells me however that we won’t be trembling and hiding at the mention of the words plastic bag.

But why? When we have been promised the worst by Nema? The culture of impunity coupled with corruption have the biggest share of the blame.

Past experiences have also shown us that fines and jail terms do not necessarily mean adherence to directives and laws.


Unless Nema pulls some sort of miracle by punishing all culprits, the proposed fines and jail terms will not lead to much.

Sadly, that’s where we are as a nation when it comes to impunity.

Manufacturers of plastic bags have been ordered by Nema to clear their stocks by August 28 and declare any remaining stocks by the same date.

Kenya Manufacturers Association has already voiced its displeasure with the ban and even petitioned President Uhuru Kenyatta to lift the ban.

In July, two businessmen moved to court to challenge the ban, saying there was no adequate stakeholder involvement, and that the ban will lead to economic losses.


Earlier this month, the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources sought dismissal of the case.

Bearing that in mind, it is likely that some manufacturers will not heed to the call by Nema.

If some don’t, then they will face the consequences but plastic bags will continue circulating.

This is a scenario we don’t want to see happen. But its likelihood to happen cannot be wished away.

I think support by main stakeholders like manufacturers is necessary for such a ban to be effective.


Lack of support by main stakeholders is an ingredient for failure. 

Putting all these together, I come to the conclusion that the plastic bag ban is unlikely to take off as intended.

So what next? I still maintain that this ban has a shot at succeeding if only stakeholders’ views are incorporated in the process, realistic alternatives are provided and more awareness is done, especially to those who can’t access the internet.

As the days near, I can only hope that each one of us will play their part to effect the ban.

But I dare say that don’t hold your breath waiting for a plastic-bag-free Kenya as from August 29. 


Apart from the plastic bag ban, other options should also be explored in curbing the plastic bag menace.

One viable option that is both sustainable and realistic is creation of an effective waste management system.

A system that runs effectively at all levels i.e waste collection, transportation, segregation, recycling and processing.

This will not only clean the environment, but it will also create employment opportunities that are much needed in a country like ours.

Dear Nema, please ponder on this one as well.