A Year On, Kenya’s Plastic Ban Takes Shape

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Kenya has declared a major victory in its bid to deal a blow to the plastic pariah that has dogged the country for many years.

Installing the globe’s stiffest fines, the African country is, a year on from introducing the policy, by all accounts thriving with cleaner waterways and roads, and there appears less plastic pollution even in the capital Nairobi’s shanty areas.

“No longer do you see carrier bags flying around when it’s windy,” said David Ong’are, enforcement director of the National Environment Management Authority.

“Waterways are less obstructed, while fishermen on the coast and Lake Victoria are seeing few bags entangled in their nets.”

So much so, that Keyna’s neighbours including Tanzania and South Sudan, are considering building on that success.

There is also less plastic contaminating the food chain, with abattoir operators only finding plastic in around one in ten animals brought to slaughter – compared to three in ten before the ban.

Kenya’s strategy was pretty stark. It was mooted 12 months ago and brought into effect on August 28, last year.

The law envisioned a maximum four-year jail term and a fine of $40,000 for anyone producing, selling or event carrying a plastic bag.

The drastic ban had one clear impact in the shanty towns – no longer the flying toilets – fouling in a plastic bag and then throwing it on to the tin roofs.

Communal toilets are now suddenly in vogue, meaning a cleaner community and more income – as it is 5 Kenyan shillings to use a toilet.

Since the ban was enforced, around 50 people in Mombasa and other townships have been arrested on suspicion of being “plastic bag dealers.”

However, for business it has proved an unwelcome headache – particularly market operators.

“The ban has shaken the economy. In several areas, business is at a standstill,” said Samuel Matonda of the Kenyan manufacturers association, who complains the policy should have been introduced gradually.

He estimates 80% of member companies are affected and close to 100,000 people have been laid off because the outlawing of flat plastic bags has been very broadly interpreted.

He is now part of a panel that is working with the government to create more exemptions and put a greater emphasis on improving waste management.

Nevertheless, the ban has sparked action and raised public awareness of the need for a cleaner environment.

With PET bottles next in the government’s sights, companies are proposing a self-management scheme to organise collection and recycling.

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