The usage of plastic bags has been banned by Kenya.
The nation has announced that anyone caught using plastic bags will be fined $40,000 or will have to serve four years of jail time.
The Republic of Kenya has been grappling with a growing problem when it comes to disposal of plastic bags. Nairobi, the nation’s capital and the country’s largest city is littered with thin plastic bags everywhere. The problem is especially bad with mounds of plastic found in dump sites. This, therefore, poses a threat to the country’s environment. Plastic, which cannot decompose, ends up blocking sewers.
Around 40 countries in the world have officially banned or have begun taxing single use plastic bags. Some of those countries include France, Italy, Rwanda and China. Ireland was able to reduce its plastic consumption by 90% (1 billion plastic bags) from 2001 to 2011. The nation imposed a tax of 37 cents to each plastic bag used.
According to the United Nations Environment Program, Kenyan supermarkets hand out 100 million plastic bags every year. Plastic bags take anywhere from 500 to 1,000 years to break down. They also enter human food chain through fish and other animals.
Under the new law, those who are found in possession of plastic bags face up to four years in jail or are liable to be fined close to $40,000. The ban is also applicable on the use, manufacture, and importation of plastics. The government has made exceptions to allow production of plastic bags used in industrial purposes.
Habib El-Habr, an expert on marine litter working with the UN environment program in Kenya noted that the nation would be faced with a crisis if it does not address the problems immediately. He said, “If we continue like this, by 2050, we will have more plastic in the ocean than fish. There is so much out there.”
However, some have criticized the government as they feel the new rules are extremely harsh. Activist Boniface Mwangi took to Facebook imploring the government to reduce the penalties as he argued it would be a blow to the poor in the nation. He wrote, “So, if you're rich, you can get away with anything, but if you're poor, don't use plastic bags from 28th August or you will go to jail.” In the country where the poverty levels are high, Mwangi said that plastic bags are also used as mobile toilets. He added, “"When you rent a house there, it doesn't come with a toilet and so every time you need to use a toilet, you have to pay. If you're a family, using the toilet becomes an expensive affair."
Our assessment is that Kenya has taken a welcome step in addressing the threat to the environment posed by plastic. However, these extreme penalties could end up affecting the poorest of poor in the nation who may not be left without many choices.