Implementation of the ban on plastic bags was the first step to a long journey of fight against environmental pollutants. The journey continues.
By ELIZABETH ANGIRA
The environmental watchdog National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), on March, 19 2019 published a public notice that said the single-usage of the Polypropylene non-woven carrier bags that were recommended after the ban of the plastic carrier bags are slowly becoming a menace. “It has been noted over time that manufacturers of these bags are producing very ‘low gauge’ poor quality non-woven bags which cannot be used multiple times but are disposed of after single use,” the notice said. Poor disposal practices currently being experienced in the country coupled with the lack of requisite infrastructure to sustainably manage these bags is also partly to blame.
Views from Kisii County
Kiyondi a former plastic bags vendor praises the ban describing it as a good move that was long overdue. “As much as I was getting my daily bread from selling the plastic bags, I got concerned whenever I saw discarded bags floating in streams, clogging the drainage system and littering the environment across the county,” says the entrepreneur who at the peak of his business made up to KShs.2,000 per day from the gunny bags. Kiyondi, has since switched to selling the eco-friendly bags. Traveling around Kisii town and other urban and rural areas within the county, one cannot help but notice a land clear of the once ubiquitous environmental pollutants.
“We did not have a lot of flooding around Kisii town last year during the heavy rains as we used to have in the past years because the drainage system was clear of the plastic bags”, says Nyakundi Ochoi, a vegetable vendor who was among thousands of micro, small and medium entrepreneurs (MSMEs) who the ban hit hardest because they sold their vegetable and fruits to their customers in the plastic bags.
Tom Togo, the Kisii County Director of NEMA, says that the devolved urban residents quickly embraced the eco-friendly bags due to increased awareness on the importance of the ban. He says they collaborated with the Kisii County Government and mobile telephone service provider, Safaricom, to carry out awareness campaigns including sending short message service (SMS) alerts to its subscribers on the ban.
“A wide section of the public is now aware that the plastic bags are illegal”, said Togo. He, however, would not provide statistics on the county’s daily plastic paper bags’ consumption before and after the ban, a fact he attributed to a multiplicity of suppliers.
A noose in smuggling
Smuggling of the plastic bags from the neighbouring countries remains a major challenge. “Neighbouring countries like Tanzania and Uganda have not initiated the ban of plastic bags and from time to time they find their way into the country, “he says.
Some of the people behind the racket collude with local businesspeople, especially during market days, to sneak in the bags in late hours to wrap the goods for their customers. Togo said they have arrested and arraigned in court several the unscrupulous business people for possession of the plastic bags.
Samson Bokea, a Kisii County Environment Executive Committee Member, praises the national government for the ban. “Our environment is clean, our water catchment areas clear, our aquatic animals are breathing fresh air, there is no interference with the ecosystem and we are witnessing increasing crop yields, “ says Bokea.
The county government has taken the ban as an opportunity to grow its manufacturing sector by welcoming potential investors into the alternative eco-friendly bags industry. He said the county will continue to work with NEMA and other national government institutions to increase public awareness on the ban.
Free carrier bags at the supermarkets
The Kisii Members of County Assembly have approved a motion that will force supermarkets operating in the county to offer customers free carrier bags. The motion attracted opposition with some members arguing that it is not the responsibility of the supermarkets to offer carrier bags. Gideon Nyambati, a lawyer, says Kenyans were aware of the government intention of banning the bags.
“The law was passed in 2014 and the manufacturers were given a period of two years to prepare and come up with the improved carrier bags before the initial ban, which was to be effected in 2016. The supermarkets should therefore have prepared,” he says.
A crop of black markets
Although the law has strengthened the country’s regime on environmental conservation, Nyambati argues that it has paved the way for cartels to sell the banned bags to the customers with those caught bribing their way out. “It (ban) has opened up a black market where you find that they are mostly used in the evening,” he says. The lawyer notes that with the fierce competition in the packaging industry, there is a possibility of fake, counterfeit or substandard bags flooding the market. “You find that those improved carrier bags are expensive, but they don’t last for long raising questions about their quality and workmanship,” he adds.
Elizabeth Angira is a freelance journalist based in Kisii. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org