Vegetables wrapped in single use plastic bags in Kibera , Nairobi.Picture by Carolyne Oyugi

Plastic Bags Still Available Years After The Ban

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Almost three years after the ban on plastic bags, they are still available and in use. One would expect that they would be completely gone from the face of Kenya yet a spot check by RoGGKenya around the country indicates that they are being used in public.

When the government of Kenya banned plastic bags on 28th August 2017, business people especially retailers and hawkers were not happy. Most of them complained of how their businesses would go down because they needed the bags for packing wet and oily things for their customers’ convenience.

Hawkers who sell food stuff were the most affected. They had to look for alternatives and ensure that their customers were satisfied and they still made profit.

Immediately after the ban, they  became very scarce, almost unavailable. Traders avoided them due to fear of the  imprisonment of up to four years, or a fine of up to Ksh 4m.

The public slowly embraced use of reusable biodegradable bags as an alternative. Others also used paper bags for packaging. Food vendors in the estates insisted that their customers came with containers or their own bags.

Spot check around the country

The bags are slowly but surely finding their way back in the market although at a slightly higher price. It is 6pm, one the of the busiest hours for Jane Mwende , a food vendor in Olympic estate, Kibera in Nairobi. This is the time when most people buy vegetables on their way home.

Mwende has already cut some vegetables and packed ready for her customers to pick and pay as she continues to cut more. Everything seems normal except for the conspicuous packaging of single use plastic bags. When asked if she is aware of the ban she confidently responds affirmative. She is however quick to ask why they are still being sold at Toi market and why no one has arrested her and other vendors who are using them.

A visit to Toi market is another surprise. The bags are everywhere, like they never left. RoGGKenya reporters talked to Maina who sells sugarcane packed in small clear plastic bags. When asked if he knows that he could be arrested, he laughs it out and explains, “If I’m arrested because of these bags then the whole market will be arrested”.

Kipasi market in Lambwe valley, Homabay County also tells the same story. Almost all the vegetables, fruits and omena vendors use the bags.A few of them wrap their products with used newspapers.

Some of the markets that still have the bags are; Kipasi Market in Lambwe valley, Toi Market in Nairobi, Kongowea in Mombasa and Kibuye Market in Kisumu. These markets are still operational despite NEMA’S warning that they would close down markets that flouted the law.

Past arrests

In November 2018, a Nyeri businesswoman was arrested for being in possession of 17 types of banned plastic bags. She appeared before senior resident magistrate Ruth Kefa and denied violating the Environment Management and Co-ordination Act Cap 387.She was later released on a bond of Ksh2 million with a surety of a similar amount. The charge sheet indicated that she was the proprietor of a retail shop – Cocorico Polythene Centre.

In the same month, eleven people were arraigned in a Kisii court where they pleaded guilty for being in possession of polythene bags. The 11, appeared before senior principal magistrate S.H. Lutta. They were accused that on 9th November, 2017 in Kisii market, they were found using and selling plastic carrier bags contravening the ban on use of flat plastic bags.They all pleaded guilty to the charge that attracted a fine of Ksh. 10,000 or a three-month jail sentence.

According to Keriako Tobiko,the Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Environment, around 300 people have been arrested around the country  since the ban and  between Ksh 50,000 and Ksh 150,000 paid as fine.

The irony of all these arrests is that those who are using the paper bags along the roads in Nairobi are not being arrested. It would be expected that the ban would be emphasized more in the capital city.

A sugarcane hawker along Ngong road finds it funny when asked why he is still using plastic bags while they were banned. He sarcastically asks when they were banned.

According to him, he has never missed the bags and his business has been going on as usual. “If they were truly banned then I would be hiding at a corner instead of selling them along a busy road”.

The ban is a good move that was aimed at saving the environment. It was also aimed at reducing the amount of garbage in kenya because most plastic bags were only used once and discarded carelessly.

This poses a danger to animals and aquatic life. It also causes blockage of drainage hence resulting to floods when it rains.

NEMA now plans to ban plastic bottles. They had given the manufacturers up to April 2019 to install collection points across the country or else they were to effect the ban.

Data from the Ministry of Environment shows that approximately 50 million bottles are used annually countrywide.

Prohibition of plastic bottles

Official Gazette signed by the Minister of Tourism and Wildlife Najib Balala  prohibits the use of plastic bottles, in addition to any other plastic object for single use, in all parks, reserves, forests and beaches within the country. United Nations headquarters in Nairobi also banned use of single use plastic in their compound. The ban was effective from August 2018.

Already 17 hotels in the coastal region have decided to abolish plastic straws and bottles. They have resorted to using 20-litres dispensers and glasses.

Whether the ban on the plastic bags will be fully implemented is a ‘wait and see’ situation even as it is extended to plastic bottles.

Questions to NEMA

RoGGKenya contacted NEMA through a phone call. The reporter was directed to the head of  Waste Management who refused to comment on the matter and directed her to the Director General. The email went unanswered despite several follow up phone calls.

Here are the questions posed to NEMA:

  1. Where do the single use plastic bags found in Kenyan markets come from since manufacturing was banned?
  2. Why did NEMA stop arresting people who use the banned bags in public yet you had announced that you were working with the police hence you are more effective?
  3. What measures are you taking to ensure that there is no more plastic bags in Kenya?
  4. How far is NEMA with the plan to ban single use plastic bottles?

What journalists should do:

  1. Find out if plastic bags are still being used in your areas.
  2. If no.1 is YES, what impact does it have on the environment? If NO, how did the local authority manage to get rid of them?
  3. What are the other alternatives being used in your area?

By Carolyne Oyugi