Banned plastics steadily making comeback to Kenyan markets

Those trading with the prohibited carrier bags claim they have not been provided with alternatives.

In Summary

•A spot check by the Star in various markets shows that most grocery shops are still using banned plastics.

•Those trading in vegetables, tomatoes, onions and sugar cane are still using plastics that were banned six years ago.

Nema officers arrest a trader found with banned plastic bags in Njoro, Nakuru county, January 18, 2023.
POLLUTION: Nema officers arrest a trader found with banned plastic bags in Njoro, Nakuru county, January 18, 2023.

The banned plastic carrier bags are steadily making a comeback to the Kenyan markets.

A spot check by the Star in various markets shows that most grocery shops are still using banned plastics.

Those trading in vegetables, tomatoes, onions and sugarcane are still using plastics that were banned six years ago.

Those using them have, however, heightened their attention claiming that the state did not provide them with an alternative.

They say authorities banned plastic carrier bags and they were not given alternatives.

“You cannot package some of the groceries in woven bags that were provided,” one of the traders who requested anonymity for fear of being arrested said.

Those selling food also say that they have not been provided with an alternative.

In 2017, the Ministry of Environment banned the use of plastic carrier bags through a gazette notice of February 27.

The ban came into effect in August of that year.

Today, being found in possession of plastics attracts a fine of between Sh2 million and Sh4 million, or a jail term of between one and two years, or both.

Before 2017, about 100 million plastic bags were used in Kenyan supermarkets every year, with severe consequences to the environment.

But despite the ban, plastics are still in the market.

The National Environment Management Authority is aware of the return of plastic bags.

The agency has been carrying out a crackdown on those found with the banned items.

Nema director-general Mamo Mamo told the Star that more than 100 traders and three wholesalers/stockists of banned plastic carrier bags have so far been arrested and arraigned.

“The porous border posts and municipal markets are the hot spots majorly from across our borders,” Mamo, who a few months ago told the Star that the success rate of the implementation of the ban was at 95 per cent, said.

He said a joint government multi-agency team, which comprises Nema, National Police Service, Kenya Revenue Authority, customs, anti-counterfeits and other regulatory agencies and partnership with county governments for the market places has been working round the clock to make sure that the ban is enforced.

Mamo, however, said there are inadequacies as the authority has few environmental inspectors and resources to undertake robust surveillance and inspections country-wide and border posts.

Nema suspects that the banned plastics are coming from other countries such as Tanzania, Somalia and Uganda.

The authority has also been facing challenges in the border posts of Garissa, Mandera, Moyale, Busia, Taita Taveta and Namanga, among others.

The government has since banned single-use plastics in protected areas.

On June 5, 2019, Kenya also banned single-use plastics on beaches, national parks, forests and conservation areas.

The ban prohibits visitors from carrying single-use plastic water bottles, disposable cups, plates, cutlery and straws into national parks, forests, beaches and conservation areas.

But despite the stringent measures, the Kenyan market is still flooded with banned plastics even in the protected areas.

This happens even as top scientists warn that there could be more plastics than fish in the oceans by 2050, with even more repercussions.

Plastics are ingested through seafood, drinks and even common salt; they penetrate the skin and are inhaled when suspended in the air.

UNEP says at least 11 million tonnes of plastic are dumped into water bodies every year.

This is the equivalent of one garbage truck being dumped every minute.

The impacts of plastic production and pollution on the triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature loss and pollution are a catastrophe in the making.

UNEP says exposure to plastics can harm human health, potentially affecting fertility, hormonal, metabolic and neurological activity and open burning of plastics contributes to air pollution.

Many are, however, hoping that the ongoing global efforts might turn the tide.

On March 2 last year, the war against plastic pollution, however, got a major boost after representatives from UN member states endorsed a historic resolution at the UN Environment Assembly to end plastic pollution and forge an international legally binding agreement by 2024.

The resolution addresses the full lifecycle of plastic, including its production, design and disposal.

Nema hopes that the legally binding agreement will bolster its work.

The resolution, based on three initial draft resolutions from various nations, established an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee, which began its work last year, with the ambition of completing a draft global legally binding agreement by the end of 2024.

It is expected to present a legally binding instrument, which would reflect diverse alternatives to address the full lifecycle of plastics, the design of reusable and recyclable products and materials, and the need for enhanced international collaboration to facilitate access to technology, capacity building and scientific and technical cooperation.

Kenya hopes that the UN assembly resolutions will help guide the East Africa Community countries on how to jointly address the plastic menace.

This is because the ban on plastics in various EAC countries is disjointed. Rwanda has imposed a full ban on single-use plastics.

Tanzania has also banned single-use plastics while Uganda has banned polythene bags below 30 microns, but this is not been widely implemented.

Burundi has imposed a ban on plastic carrier bags and certain packaging while South Sudan has banned plastic carrier bags.

However, policies and implementation differ across countries.

Without strong regional consensus and implementation of policies, plastic waste easily flows from one town or country to another.

Moreover, most borders of countries surrounding Kenya are porous so anything is sneaked in.

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