“We can’t use plastic bag anymore; would you like to buy one of our baskets?” the Chinese grocery shop-owner asked as she handed the 2kg lettuce over the counter.
“No, that’s fine.” I said as I pulled out a white plastic bag from my hand-bag.
“Oh no, that’s illegal! You better hide this plastic bag away. You could be fined $40,000 USD and locked up in jail! They might even deport you if the police catch you. They have been doing a lot of checking around here.” she warned me in the most serious manner.
Kenya has once again made the world news headline this week for imposing the toughest plastic bag ban in the world. In order to reduce plastic pollution, any Kenyans producing, selling or even using plastic bags could face fines of up to $40,000 USD or risk imprisonment of up to four years. Travelers entering Kenya will be required to leave plastic shopping bags at the airport.
Indeed, it will not be difficult for one to notice piles of waste plastic bags across Kenya. According to UN estimations, Kenyan shoppers use more than 100 million plastic bagsper year, which can take more than a century to biodegrade. Livestock, such as cattle and goat, often graze on street rubbish causing plastic bags to also enter the human food chain. In Nairobi’s slaughterhouses, as many as 20 polythene bagsare discovered in the stomachs of cows. Furthermore, plastic bag creates great problems to solid waste management clogging sewers and streams.
This recent plastic bag ban marks the third Kenyan attempt at reducing plastic bag use. Over-night, plastic bags have disappeared from all Kenyan shops. Instead, vendors are using cartons, old sacks, newspapers, envelops and even strings. When alternative options are not available, shoppers carry their goods with their bare hands. Other creative Kenyan improvise making bags out of dried plantain leaves. Whilst protecting the environment is important, bag manufacturers argue that the new law costed more than 80,000 people’s job. Moreover, in a country where policy bribery continues to be a great challenge, the new law is perceived by some to be greater opportunities for police extortion.
Whilst there are pros and cons in the implementation of the Kenyan plastic bag ban, I will certainly not be the plastic-bag criminal in killing our beautiful environment!