Energy & EnvironmentNews

In a bid to fight pollution, Kenya ban on plastic bags paying off

East Africa — The Kenyan government is taking environmental issues and concerns very seriously, especially in the wake of the harm being posed by pollution and environmental neglect.

The new law has reduced the number plastic bags being thrown in the streets in the country since the regulation took effect.

A ban on plastic bags came into force this week in Kenya and anyone found in violation of the ban could be given a maximum fine of $38,000 or serve a four-year jail term, according a government release.

The Kenyan ban on plastic bags came into force in a bid to slow pollution, with offenders liable to jail time or hefty fines.

Kenya joins a list of several dozen African countries that seek to ban plastic bags that environmentalists say harm both soil and water, and ruin tourist sites.

Plastic bags formed smaller hills around Kenya

An estimated 24 million plastic bags are used each month in Kenya, with the population littering most used plastic bags on roadsides and in turn clog sewers and streams.

It is now illegal to use, manufacture, or import plastic bags in Kenya, according to a new policy and government regulation that goes into effect this week.

The new regulation would require offenders to be fined as much as $38,000, or serve up to four years in jail. Visitors and others travelers entering into Kenya with plastic bags will have to leave them at the airport.

The new regulation came with much legal battles from traders. High Court threw out a challenge brought by importers who claim jobs will be lost and livelihoods threatened.

Like Kenya, dozens of countries have also restricted, banned outright or imposed levies for the use of plastic bags but the east African nation’s new law is mostly tough, with fines of up to $38,000 (32,000 euros) and four-year prison sentences.

UNEP head Erik Solheim, the head of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), welcomed the ban as “a huge, important step” to ending plastic pollution.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that Kenyan supermarkets give away as many as 100 million plastic bags every year.

The Retail Trade Association of Kenya said supermarket chains in the country plan to provide re-useable, eco-friendly bags at a small price.

Willy Kimani, director of the trade group and an executive at the Naivas supermarket chain, said “We are subsidizing the cost for the benefit of the consumer.”

The widespread use of plastic bags has created problems throughout the country. Road verges are usually covered with unwanted plastic bags and trees festooned with them, blocking drains and affecting animals, including livestock such as cows and goats that ingest them.

Local environmentalists say the damage is worse at sea where island-sized gyres of garbage float about, starving fish to death when their stomachs are filled with plastic waste.

The country’s National Environment Management Agency (NEMA) released ads in newspapers making clear that while plastic bags are banned, neither industrial manufacturers producing plastic-wrapped goods nor users of plastic bin liners will fall foul of the law.

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Michael Harrington

Michael Harrington is a researcher and senior contributing reporter with Globe Afrique Media.

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