Senators warn Trump against weakening Kenya's plastic restrictions

Kenya banned single use plastic bags in 2017 and recently plastic bottles in protected area.

In Summary

• The senators and Congresspeople oppose using trade negotiations with Kenya to undermine efforts to restrict importation or consumption of single-use plastic and other polluting products.

• They said plastic pollution has had a devastating impact on health, environment and economy, citing a 2018 Nema study showing that cattle near urban areas had plastic bags in their stomachs. 

Stretches of plastic garbage next to an informal settlement.. Image:Courtesy.
PLASTIC POLLUTION: Stretches of plastic garbage next to an informal settlement.. Image:Courtesy.


A group of US legislators has warned President Donald Trump against weakening Kenya’s restrictions on plastic pollution.

The seven senators and 54 members of Congress in their October 1 letter  to Trump said they “strongly oppose using the trade negotiations with Kenya to undermine domestic efforts to restrict importation or consumption of single-use plastic and other polluting products.”

They said that plastic pollution is a major global problem and Trump should be cautious when negotiating the trade deal with Kenya.

“Of the estimated 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic produced in the past 60 years, 6.3 billion metric tons have become plastic waste and much of that has polluted our natural environment leading to major blights on the environment, economies, and health of countries around the world.

"Every year, enough plastic – about 8 million tons – escapes into the ocean that five grocery bags full of plastic trash would fit on every foot of coastline around the globe,” they said.

The letter is copied to US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, and Administrator of Environmental Protection Agency Andrew Wheeler.

The senators and Congresspeople said plastic pollution in Kenya has had a devastating impact on health, environment and economy.

“Plastic bag pollution has led to major issues, such as clogged drainage systems that contributed to mass flooding in rainy seasons. A study supported by the National Environmental Management Agency in 2018 found that more than 50% of cattle near urban areas in Kenya had plastic bags in their stomachs.”

They said plastic beverage bottles and other plastic containers are ubiquitous in landscapes, residential areas, rivers and beaches.

“Some of this pollution can be attributed to plastic that was exported from the United States,” they said.

The lawmakers said apart from ocean pollution, plastic is contaminating every area of the world, including the atmosphere in form of micro-plastic pollution found in raindrops that fall in areas as remote as Rocky Mountain National Park.

“With nearly 400 million tons of plastic produced globally each year and failed policies to reclaim and recycle that plastic, we are creating suffocating amounts of plastic that are harming our environment, our health and our budgets.”

In 2019, the US exported more than 1 billion pounds of plastic waste to 96 countries, including Kenya.

The leaders said while many Americans believe they are recycling their plastic when they sort it at home for collection, this plastic often ends up as waste in developing countries with poor waste management capabilities and ultimately finds its way into rivers, oceans and landscapes.

Indeed, even countries with excellent waste management systems cannot keep up with the ever increasing amounts of plastic that is impossible to recycle.

This plastic waste is often buried in landfills, set on fire in open lots, or lost to the rivers, oceans and the environment. Many in industry blame this pollution on developing countries.

This is a crisis that has captured the attention of the global community. In May last year, 187 countries took a major step to limit the flow of plastic waste to developing countries under the Basel (Switzerland) Convention.

Additionally, more than 100 countries support the need for a new global agreement to address the full life-cycle of plastics.

“In both cases, the US has not only failed to be a leader, but instead is actively working against progress on tackling this pollution.”

The letter to Trump noted: “The United States’ solution to the plastic pollution crisis cannot be to simply open more markets abroad for plastic products and find destinations to send increasing amounts of plastic waste. This is totally at odds with the global policy solution to prevent plastic pollution—not to mention climate change.”

Kenya’s own response to mounting plastic pollution was to restrict plastic bags in 2017 and recently single-use plastic products like bottles in protected areas.

Kenya is one of the 187 countries that signed the Basel amendments restricting the flow of plastic waste to developing countries.

“Actions taken by the United States to undermine global efforts to restrict plastic waste exports and strategies to reduce single-use plastic and other wasteful products may benefit private corporations and for-profit industries that have only shareholder returns in mind, but they are a bad strategy for United States’ interests abroad and will make it difficult to reach more equitable trade agreements that promote sustainable jobs and protect our environment.”

The lawmakers  urged the US to begin efforts to ratify the Basel Convention and cease to undermine the Basel plastic amendments in other forums to which the US belongs, such as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

“The United States should publicly affirm this position and begin a process of joining with other countries to proactively address plastic pollution internationally as well as at home,” they said.


- mwaniki fm