Can Kenyans Live Without Plastic Bags?

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The Government of Kenya this week announced a ban on the use, manufacture and import of all plastic bags, to take effect in six months. In a gazette notice dated February 28th, Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Natural Resources announced the ban stating that from the date of the notice, manufacture and importation of all plastic bags used for commercial and household packaging should take effect by the 1st of September 2017.

This announcement comes just three weeks after the UN declared a “war on plastic” through its new Clean Seas initiative, which has already secured commitments to address major plastic pollution from 10 governments. Kenya this week is the 11th country to take action in support of the UN Environment campaign

According to the World Economic Forum, about 32% of the 78 million tonnes of plastic packaging produced is dumped into the ocean. This is the equivalent of a garbage truck dumping plastic into the oceans every minute. Scientists presume that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans and this needs to change while it still can.

In the same effect, India which has been said to be one of the danger spots for pollution banned all forms of disposable plastic in the capital. This means that no wholesale trader, retailer or trader can use plastic cups, spoons, plates or plastic wrap in the nation’s capital. Coming closer home, Rwanda and Morocco have already banned plastic bags and other countries are set to announce measures in the coming weeks; a commendable move to see the havoc that plastics bring when it comes to proper waste management.

But, is Kenya really ready for this bold move?

Wherever you walk in this city, you are met by the sight of plastic everywhere. From plastic soda bottles and paper bags from supermarkets, there is the undeniable fact that the city needs to deal with the plastic disposal issue immediately. However, Kenya had previously tried to rein the plastic menace before. In 2007 and 2011, the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) had declared a ban on plastic bags but both efforts failed; so does this move look promising?

On one hand, it does. For years now, Kenyans have been crying for a permanent solution to the unpleasant stain that plastics have brought onto the city bringing about the growing ugliness to the nation’s capital, providing breeding grounds for pests and continued blockage to sewerage systems.

On the other hand, as much as the plastic ban is a clear win-win situation for the city; not all parties walk away happy. For instance, the jobs and livelihoods that depend on manufacturing on plastics will be affected. The manufacturing sector as a whole will also likely be affected.

Since the announcement of the ban, manufacturers are in a state of panic. There is a huge worry that the 6 month period for the ban to take full effect is not enough for companies to close production, clear their remaining stocks and find suitable alternatives like the bio-degradable packaging.

There is also the big concern that the plastic menace is not brought about by a production issue, but a management issue. There is the underlying argument that the manufacturers are not to blame but the sole responsibility of the how the consumer should deal with how they dispose of their waste which is evident that we as the consumers have terribly failed.

As much as we would like to point fingers on the manufacturers, one clear fact remains; that despite numerous efforts to place waste bins all around the city and the common sense to not throw rubbish everywhere, you will still find scores of educated adults throwing waste wherever they see fit.

So, will the ban work? Even though the ban has received a considerable amount of backlash, Kenyans are ready to go on the journey to take back their city and make it as clean and desirable as it was before and with sufficient efforts from the common mwananchi and determination by the government to exercise and implement the ban without fear or favor, we might just have our green city in the sun back.

Featured photo from http://www.voanews.com.

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