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In praise of the ban on plastic bags

Sunday March 26 2017

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The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources has finally imposed a ban on the use of plastic bags in Kenya.

This ban is long overdue and many environmentally conscious Kenyans hope it will be enforced.

The Kenya Association of Manufacturers has protested the ban, arguing that 170 companies may be closed and 60,000 jobs lost. This may be true, but it is also true that companies that fail to innovate with the times get left behind as the rest of the world moves on.

Let us get some things clear. No one person or company, or even a million of them, can be more important than the environment in which humans and other creatures live.

Blanket support for the continued manufacture, use and recycling of single-use plastic bags is ill-considered because these bags present a big threat to the natural environment.

In other words, with the exception of a few jobs and enriching a few humans, single-use-type plastics are not worth the damage they cause.


Plastics are not biodegradable, which means many of them either do not decompose in soil or take very long to do so. They end up filling landfills in the environment, and when consumed by animals cause choking and death.

If animals that ingest plastic papers do not die from suffocating, the plastic clogs their intestines and the poor creatures die a slow, miserable death of starvation as food cannot be digested.

The United Nations Environment Programme estimated in 2006 that there were 46,000 pieces of plastic litter floating in every square mile of ocean.

Sea life, including birds, get entangled in this plastic, which retards natural growth and prevents birds from flying. So humans who selfishly continue to use single-use plastics have the same effect on animals as they would on humans if our legs were cut and we are forced to find a new way to move around.

I know there are those humans who think that we are the most important species on the planet, as well we may be. But nature has a way of fighting us back, as Prof Wangari Maathai, the Nobel Laureate and environmentalist, often reminded us.


Yet even our self-importance is quite delusional. Plastic bags just do not flow when it rains, neither do they sink in water. They end up getting entangled and entangling other forms of waste, causing blockages in drainage systems.

Nairobians are not strangers to this ‘flood’ phenomenon. Nature has a way of dealing with all things natural, including maize cobs, but it is those plastic bags that ‘confuse’ the rain.

As if that were not enough, non-renewable resources on this planet are used by the tonne to create this menace. Manufacturing plastic bags uses millions of gallons of fossil oils.

It takes the earth millions of years to create this oil and humans want to consume it faster than the earth can produce it, and for what? The 10-minute repeated gratification of using a plastic bag, since very few bags are recycled.

Who said we are the most intelligent species, again? They need to retest their theory. Even when these bags are not plastic, millions of trees and litres of water are still used to manufacture carrier bags from other sorts of paper.


Aside from environmental degradation, plastic bags cause aesthetic degradation as well. The litter generated by these bags flying all over the place is just an ugly sight. In Kenya, a visit to Garissa town would be the best illustration of this. Plastics are ghastly.

What happened to the dignified lives some of us watched our grandmothers and mothers led? First, our grandmothers always had their carrier, and in my community it is called a kiondo.

These bags lasted years and were never far from their owners. They were dusted and reused time and time again. Did that reduce the value to the goods that they carried? Not at all.

When our mothers adopted the handbag, they carried inside them foldable bags which could be removed on a need-to basis.

Why is our generation so lazy?

Twitter: @muthonithangwa