Employees of plastic bag manufacturers on Tuesday took to the streets to protest the closure of their factories, as the country’s environmental watchdog welcomed Kenyans’ support following the ban on plastics.
The workers complained that they had been rendered jobless without proper procedures being followed about the ban and appealed to the government to intervene.
Their procession snaked its way from Industrial Area, where most of the companies are located, to the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) headquarters on Popo Road.
Most of the factories closed shop on Monday when the ban took effect.
It is estimated that about 700,000 employees are directly employed by the polythene bag manufacturers around the country.
Those found selling or using plastic bags are liable for up to four years in prison and fines of up to Sh4 million.
The government has justified the move by saying many of the estimated 300 million plastic bags used in Kenya every year are thrown away in an environmentally unfriendly manner and take centuries to biodegrade.
Nema Director-General Geoffrey Wahungu said support for the ban had gone beyond their expectation.
The ban exempts primary food packaging materials and garbage bags.
“The exercise has been a success and we want to thank Kenyans for the support, especially from small businesses and retailers of the bags,” he said.
Prof Wahungu added that Kenyans could still use any bags they are holding to take out waste.
“Otherwise, those who feel obliged to should declare their stacks to any branch of Uchumi, Tuskys and Nakumatt supermarkets from Thursday,” he said.
“Do not throw the bags in your trash for disposal. You can either declare them through or recycle them within the home.”
Meanwhile, fishermen in Lake Victoria welcomed the ban, describing it a major step towards fighting pollution in the lake.
“The existence of plastic bags in the lake has contributed to decreasing fish population following heavy pollution,” Lake Victoria Beach Management Unit Network Chairman Edward Oremo said.
Mr Oremo said the pollutants had clogged breeding sites and thereby affecting fish populations and movement.
Contacted for comment, Homa Bay County environment officer John Maniafu said the county would ensure the ban is implemented to the letter.
In Nakuru and Nyandarua, police and county askaris were accused of going on an extortion spree in the guise of taking action against people flouting the ban.
In Kinangop, a number of officers raided the Engineer market and arrested several women before releasing them in unclear circumstances.
“They came as I was opening my stall and demanded to search for the plastic bags.
“I had six of them holding some personal items. I was arrested and taken around the town, where some more traders were arrested,” Ms Faith Nyawira said.
She said those set free had to part with between Sh500 and Sh1,000.
Similar incidents were reported at Njambini and Ndaragwa markets.
In Ol Kalou, environment executive Martin Kimani warned the askaris against harassing the public or engaging in extortion.
“We have not received a Nema directive to make any arrests.
“When this is done, the operation will be conducted in a sober transparent manner and enforcement officers will have identification cards. The public should follow the law and avoid bribing any officer,” Mr Kimani said.
In Nairobi, plastic bag retailers expressed disappointment at the decision by Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko to support the ban.
They said they had written to the governor about their plight, citing massive losses incurred.
They said the ban had resulted in the loss of 60,000 direct jobs.
“Importation, manufacture, and sale of polythene in Kenya has been in existence for 30 years.
“Immediately banning the same is not the solution since other countries in the region still use them,” they said in a statement.
However, in response, Mr Sonko said despite the inconvenience caused by the ban, Kenyans had a duty to protect and conserve the environment.
At the Coast, Nema officials in Mombasa warned they will soon start arresting people who defy the ban.
“We are alerting residents and businessmen that no one will be arrested as at now but those caught with plastics when we start the crackdown will face the law,” Mr Joseph Wambua, the county environment director, said.
In Lamu, conservationists warned that the ban will not be effective if the intended coal-fired power plant is established in the region.
In Nyeri, traders complained about poor business in the wake of the ban as hawkers seized the opportunity to sell recyclable bags.
Pauline Kairu, Kalume Kazungu, Lilian Mutavi, Gitonga Marete, Vivian Jebet, Waikwa Maina, Hilda Anyango, Peter Mburu, Magdalene Wanja, Faith Nyamai and Barrack Odour
They say Kenya has come of age in environmental consciousness.