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November 21, 2018

Ban on plastic bags to cripple Kenyan SMEs

Kenya Association of Manufacturer,KAM CEO Phyllis Wakiaga during an Interview after witnessing the signing ceremony of a memorandum of Understanding between KENTRADE and Trademark East Africa in Nairobi on September 24.
Photo/Enos Teche.
Kenya Association of Manufacturer,KAM CEO Phyllis Wakiaga during an Interview after witnessing the signing ceremony of a memorandum of Understanding between KENTRADE and Trademark East Africa in Nairobi on September 24. Photo/Enos Teche.

One major developmental challenge our country faces is that of waste pollution. In Nairobi, for instance, the most populous parts of the city are also the most affected by waste pollution, and this is where you will find a lot of the SMEs, both informal and formal, thriving. Given their critical position, it is pertinent that we find ways to center them in our policy development towards environmental conservation.

A conspicuous example of such a policy is the plastic bag ban issued by the Government this year. No doubt that this is a positively significant step that our country is taking towards environmental conservation and sustainability. However, the execution of the ban will favour big industrial businesses and supermarkets, and greatly disadvantage small businesses. As opposed to bringing SMEs on board to ensure its effectiveness, it unfortunately locks them out. By negatively impacting their businesses, the ban takes away their very critical agency in bringing positive change to the society, and cripples their ability to catalyze behavioural shift in consumer culture towards an environmental transformation.

Being the constant touch points with a very wide demographic, their operations intertwine with consumers’ daily routines, making it easy for them to inculcate cultural shifts and normalize them. A food vendor, for example, will be best placed to drive a campaign against littering by ensuring that their shop or kibanda provides bins for their customers, teaching them how to use them. Therefore, if for instance we are to implement a waste management initiative such as waste segregation, the Kibanda will have different bins for organic waste, plastic waste and bottles. For the consumers, seeing this being practiced on a daily basis, in a place that they frequent and are familiar with, the idea of waste segregation ceases to be alien and a new consciousness is instilled. Ultimately, social value is created towards the end goal of environmental conservation.

This demonstrates how stakeholder participation in policy development goes a long way in ensuring successful execution. If SMEs are involved in the formulation of policies that will affect their businesses, they will champion the effective implementation of the same. In contrast, if there is no consultation to build a shared understanding on the intent of a policy, then not only do small businesses suffer the cost and operational burdens of adjustments, forcing them to shut down, they also are unable to progress their role of social value creation. In the case of the plastic bag ban, the owners of vibandas will resort to using newspapers or brown bags to pack their chapatis, mandazis, and eggs, which do not guarantee safety and hygiene for food as plastic bags currently do.

Phyllis Wakiaga is the CEO, Kenya Association of Manufacturers

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