For decades now, disposable plastic bags have been a hot item for shoppers thanks to their cheap and lightweight nature. But environment managers across the region say littering of waste, mainly domestic waste, is the biggest challenge facing residents in many urban centres.
This is not helped by the fact that polythene waste can take hundreds of years to decompose which makes it a more visible, unsightly component of litter in the environment.
When plastic bags litter enters water streams and drainages, clogging of the public and municipal drainage results into localised flooding prompting local governments to spend millions of shilling every year to pick up this litter or to unblock the drainage systems to maintain the sanitary conditions of the area.
It is such problems associated with the use of plastic bags that many countries have begun restricting or prohibiting their use. Environmentalists say the global shift away from the use of these convenient carrier bags is clearly informed by failure even of well-established and elaborate systems put in place to collect, treat and dispose the unwanted plastics.
This week, a #PlasticBagBan took effect in Kenya and many are crying foul to this new direction by National Environmental Management Authority – NEMA. Those who depend on plastic bags for business have their fingers roasted. Myself, even though I am rejoicing, I feel that it’s coming many years too late. Our government has fallen victim to curtails in this industry who have always protected it at the expense of the environment.
The dangers of plastic bag use are even more evident in Kenya and Africa as a whole than in other parts of the world. For us to have waited for this long is unbelievable, despite there being alternatives our government could look at. Its has been up to the government to take the courageous action and put a total bun, while giving guidelines on the way forward.
For the many women who are working in small projects creating handmade bags, this is their time to break through, while the manufacturers are still in limbo. The Sisal Sisters for example are a group of women in Kakuyuni, Kenya who make handbags out of sisal and wool.
This handicraft is indigenous to their village, originally used for carrying vegetables, coffee and even as a muzzle for a donkey. Each bag is beautiful and unique to the individual weaving technique and expertise of the woman who makes it.
You can use the bags for a handbag, a beach tote, grocery bag, plant holder or anything you can think of, this is the future we want in our country. If the government does not give guidelines, the same companies will look for cheaper way of making bugs that might not work really well as reusables and cause the same environmental damage.
Kenyans producing, selling or even using plastic bags will risk imprisonment of up to four years or fines of $40,000 from Monday, as the world’s toughest law aimed at reducing plastic pollution came into effect.
The east African nation joins more than 40 other countries that have banned, partly banned or taxed single use plastic bags, including China, France, Rwanda, and Italy.
Many bags drift into the ocean, strangling turtles, suffocating seabirds and filling the stomachs of dolphins and whales with waste until they die of starvation.
“If we continue like this, by 2050, we will have more plastic in the ocean than fish,” said Habib El-Habr, an expert on marine litter working with the UN environment programme in Kenya. Its important for us to examine and consider with courage the damage we have already done to the environment by the use of plastic Bags. If we can make a turn around today, it will be for the better.
Plastic bags, which El-Habr says take between 500 to 1,000 years to break down, also enter the human food chain through fish and other animals. In Nairobi’s slaughterhouses, some cows destined for human consumption had 20 bags removed from their stomachs.
We hope for a better environment, we hope that this will be the beginning of a total ban on all plastic use. We will reclaim the lost environment back. This should be the first step in that direction, but we want more regulation. It might have taken us 20 years to do this, we dont have twenty more years.