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November 20, 2017

Kenya raises profile in pollution war via UNEP's CleanSeas campaign

Traders at the main market in Eldoret, Uasin Gishu county, display the alternative bags they are now using following the ban on plastic bags, August 28, 2017. /MATHEWS NDANYI
Traders at the main market in Eldoret, Uasin Gishu county, display the alternative bags they are now using following the ban on plastic bags, August 28, 2017. /MATHEWS NDANYI

Kenya has joined the league of countries helping to beat pollution through the CleanSeas campaign by the United Nations Environment Programme.

The United Nations Environment Programme says Kenya has become key player in countering the torrents of plastic trash degrading oceans and endangering the life they sustain.

"Humanity’s unhealthy addiction to throwaway plastics bags is a particular target. Countries including Kenya, France, Jordan, Madagascar and the Maldives have committed to banning plastic bags or restricting consumers to re-usable versions for which they have to pay," Unep said in a statement on Tuesday.

The statement noted the countries, which are all members of UN Environment's #CleanSeasCampaign, account for about 40 per cent of the world's coastlines.

"They are drawing up laws, establishing marine reserves, banning plastic bags and gathering up the waste choking their beaches and reefs," it said.

Kenya banned the use of plastics on February 27, giving manufacturers six months until August 28 to clear their stock.

Carrier bags with handles, with or without gussets, or flat bags without handles and with or without gussets are not allowed in the market, a move that UNEP lauded. 

Travellers are also not be allowed into the country with plastic bags.

Being found with plastics attracts a fine of between Sh2 million and Sh4 million, or a jail term of between one and two years, or both.

Read: Kenya imposes world's toughest law against plastic bags

Also read: Government plans to ban plastic bottles

PLASTICS IN FOOD CHAIN

In 2016, a global population of more than seven billion people produced over 300 million tons of plastic, with severe consequences for marine plants and animals, according to UNEP.

By 2030, the amount of household waste will almost double to three b billion tons annually.

In Kenya, 24 million plastic bags are used monthly, half ending up as solid waste.

UNEP said humans have already dumped billions of tons of plastic and are still adding it to the ocean at a rate of eight million tons a year.

This, the organisation says, endangers fish, birds and other creatures who mistake it for food or become entangled in it.

UNEP warns that some of the plastics has already entered the human food chain with health consequences yet to be fully understood.

A study it conducted in August found 15 per cent of all cows slaughtered in Nairobi are full of plastics in their stomachs.

Other studies outside Kenya have also found large amounts of microplastics in Indian Ocean fish, a tide UNEP wants reversed through the #CleanSeasCampaign.

UNEP says the campaign will inspire action from governments, businesses and individuals on ocean pollution.

CITIZENS MUST CHANGE HABITS

The organisation also warns that plastics harms tourist destinations and provides breeding grounds for mosquitoes carrying diseases including dengue and Zika.

UNEP's concerns come ahead of the United Nations Environment Assembly, the world's highest-level decision-making body on the environment.

UNEA will gather in Nairobi, from December 4 to 6 under the overarching theme of pollution.

This year’s assembly will be sustainable and climate-neutral and will feature side events that confront pollution in its various forms.

Ending pollution of air, land, waterways, and oceans, and safe management of chemicals and waste are on the agenda.

According to UNEP, legislation to press companies and citizens to change their wasteful habits is often part of broader government strategies to foster responsible production and consumption - a key step in the global shift toward sustainable development.

UNEP says Belgium and Brazil, for instance, are both working on national action plans to curb marine pollution.

It says Costa Rica has embarked on a five-year strategy to improve waste management including a push to reduce the use of plastics.

UNEP further says Israel is among countries supporting programmes to keep beaches clean, along with Canada and Belgium.

Indonesia has pledged to reduce its generation of plastic trash by 70 per cent by 2030, while the Philippines plans new laws targeting single-use plastics.

Unep says drinks bottles,flip-flops and tiny plastic fragments including microbeads used in cosmetics are concentrating in the oceans and washing up on the most remote shorelines.

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