Are We Heading In The Right Direction With The Banning of Plastic Bags?


The banning of plastic bags in Kenya leaves more questions than answers.

We have exactly seven days before the plastic ban is implemented. After Aug 28, 2017, it will be illegal to be found in possession of carrier plastic bags. There are other explanations and exceptions in between such as marked papers from manufacturers are allowed and only over-the-counter plastic bags are prohibited, you will have to read all the gazette notices published on the issue to get a full grasp of what this whole thing is about.

The point for this ban is that we need a clean country and instead of plastics, the environmental body in charge of this is looking at bio-degradable alternatives. In other words, more eco-friendly materials should take the place of plastics.

I think it is important to note at this point that, this is not the first time we are having an attempt to ban plastics in this county. There were previous efforts in 2011, in 2005 and in 2007 as well, there were efforts to ban plastics.

What I find curious though is why it has been impossible to uphold the ban on plastics and good intentions notwithstanding, just why getting the goodwill from the people to deal with this issue has proved very problematic.

I have my doubts about whether the plastic ban is going to work and like this argument on why adopting biodegradable plastic bags may not work in Kenya, I believe that even as a country, there are levels to what is possible to us in this regard (please do not mention Rwanda except you are willing to talk about the size of the country and the political complexities there). I think that yes, we need a clean environment but why I am skeptical that this plastics ban may not exactly be the answer. Or why I think that we are skipping so many solutions that we could work with and which would be more appropriate to us such as the age-old recycling, regulating waste and ensuring that the quality of papers out there is good and can be used more than once. Can Kenyans Live Without Plastic Bags?

Here are the springs of my doubts:

Are we willing to interrogate the factors that previously led to the failure of this ban?

In the course of my research for this piece, I read that one of the challenges that this ban had in the past was lack of political goodwill as well as absence a good number to rally and push for the implementation of this ban. Why didn’t we have the political goodwill? Why didn’t we have the numbers to push for the implementation (or is it enforcement) of this policy? Have the stakeholders comprehensively answered these questions? They (people at the ban’s policy table) say these challenges have since been resolved and now we are looking at the possibility of a sparkling environment. The truth is that, if we are sticking to the Kenyan style, of sweeping issues under that carpet, as we are wont to do and then pretending that we have solved them; high chances are that this ban will join the other bans that we have had in the past because the issues within have not been fully solved. Maybe I just have very little faith in NEMA but things like this ban do not work. However, I am keeping an open book, a notebook and pen, waiting to be proved wrong.

This ban is a whole can of worms

There will be exceptions in the ban such as primary packaging in plastic bags will be allowed by manufacturers. Are you already seeing how we will begin having plastics back into the system? How will we package bread, for example? I think the answer is that bread makers will be exempted from the ban. This means that we will still have a generous daily supply of plastics. How many other manufacturers will also get an exemption?

Here is the other can: what will happen to all the paper bags in our homes?

The most fundamental question for me is why should I care about plastic papers when I was born, I found them here and they are yet to kill me? What is my point? Civic education. If you asked me, I think it would reward more to have a populace that understands why plastics should be phased out than one that is coerced into hiding plastic bags. I am of the opinion that the 6 months’ prior notice to the ban is too short because it is not just the manufacturing of polythene bags that we are ridding ourselves of but rather, the whole scope – attitude change, lifestyle change and then the manufacturing of the papers comes in a distant third. The point is we need to redirect the energy. It is just a week to the enforcement of the ban and we still have traders on TV asking how they are to package their products to buyers.

My third concern has to do with the motive

The motive is a clean environment. Yes. But are polythene bags the only [dirt] in our environment? We still have people in this country who can comfortably throw banana pills through car windows so what are we saying? A worry that I have is assuming that all environmental challenges are caused by polythene bags and then going on to actually blame papers when the truth is that there is a system that has failed in executing its mandate – of creating awareness about the necessity of clean environments. We are absolving the agencies that are charged with collecting and recycling waste papers of their responsibilities by heaping the blame on people who use the papers or people who make them.

I am skeptical of absolutes

A ban reads like a very absolute measure to me and my experience as a student, writer and even friend tells me that absolutes do not work especially if there are other more flexible alternatives. In Kenya and with this polythene bags, rain started beating us when we started falling short in recycling. Recycling has been as option for as long as I remember seeing the first paper bag in my life. Why are we not recycling plastic papers and how can we ensure that the collection points for these plastic papers are actually working?

Then there is the question of job losses and industry closures with this ban. What are the chances that the ban of plastics will wreak more havoc than looking for better ways to deal with plastics? Very high chances.

Can the environmental problems we are facing be resolved by proper waste management? We Need To Do Better In Terms Of Waste Management In Nairobi County

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I have a persistent thirst to know things and that has pushed me to read a lot of books and ask questions including stopping strangers on the road to ask them questions about the inspiration behind their hairstyles… Apart from the madness, I am generally a very bubbly, reasonable and energetic person.