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Kenya issues fresh plastic bags ban amid protests from manufacturers

Plastic bags strewn all over the Ngong Dump Site. About 100 million plastic bags are handed out every year in Kenya by supermarkets alone. [PHOTO: KIUNDU WAWERU/STANDARD]

NAIROBI: Being in possession of a plastic bag for whatever use could soon land you in trouble with the authorities.

This follows the announcement that the Government will beginning September ban the use of plastic bags.

In a gazette notice dated February 28, Environment and Natural Resources Cabinet Secretary Judi Wakhungu said the ban particularly targets carrier bags, plastic bags with handles as well as flat bags – those without handles – all used by consumers to carry goods, especially from retail outlets.

“In exercise of the powers conferred under section 3 and 86 of the Environmental Management and Natural Resources Act, it is notified to the public that the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Natural Resources has with effect from six months from the date of this notice banned the use, manufacture and importation of all plastic bags used for commercial and household packaging,” read the notice in part.

This means retailers, especially supermarkets, will have to devise new ways of packaging their customers’ shopping, with plastic bags being the most popular.

Previous attempts to ban their use have flopped and it remains to be seen if the latest attempt will be enforced. The first attempt was in 2007 when the Government issued a ban against bags below 0.3 millimetres in thickness.

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And in January 2011, the National Environment Management Authority’s (NEMA) ban on bags below 0.6 millimetres in thickness came a cropper.

NEMA Legal Officer Edward Wabito said the move was informed by the need to curb blockages in drainage systems during the rainy season.

“Last year, we saw a lot of drainage systems blocking as a result of plastic bags clogging them during the rains. It is this kind of scenario that the ministry wants to avoid,” said Mr Wabito.

Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) Chief Executive Phylis Wakiaga said the ban would greatly affect manufacturers.

“Currently, we have over 176 plastic manufacturing companies in Kenya, which directly employ 2.89 per cent of all Kenyan employees and indirectly employ over 60,000 people. These jobs and livelihoods will be negatively affected by this ban,” said Ms Wakiaga.

UGLY STAIN

She said imported products packaged in plastics are not affected by the ban and this would create an uneven playing field for the sector.

Ms Wakiaga said the move would send mixed signals to the investors, adding that they were not consulted.

“Local manufacturers were not extensively consulted on the decision to effect the ban on plastic bags,” she said. “According to the Statutory Instruments Act, any regulation-making authorities should undertake appropriate consultation and impact assessment before issuing a policy directive, especially if the directive is likely to have direct or substantial effect on business.”

The KAM boss further said the period before the ban is effected was inadequate.

“Additionally, the six-month period provided for the ban to take full effect is not adequate as the companies cannot close down production and clear their stocks within this period,” she said.

“There is also a need to put in place measures to provide  alternatives to the plastic bags. The country is not in a position to offer this alternative currently or in the next six months.”

But the United Nations (UN) applauded the move.

UN Environment’s Executive Director Erik Solheim said Kenya had taken decisive action to remove an ugly stain on its outstanding natural beauty.

“Plastic waste also causes immeasurable damage to fragile ecosystems, both on land and at sea, and this decision is a major breakthrough in our global effort to turn the tide on plastic,” said Mr Solheim.

“Kenya should be commended for its environmental leadership. It’s a great example that I hope will inspire others, and help drive further commitments to the Clean Seas campaign.”

The announcement comes just three weeks after the UN declared war on plastics through its new Clean Seas initiative. The initiative has already secured commitments to address major plastic pollution from 10 governments. Already, Rwanda and Burundi have banned the use of plastics in the region.

Other countries include South Africa, Uganda, Somalia and Botswana.

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