POLLUTION

Plastics threat to forests and parks

Leave them cleaner than you found them.

In Summary
  • Every individual utilising the forests and parks for whatever activity should bear the greatest responsibility for the waste they generate.
  • Polluter Pays Principle should be applied—you pollute you pay immediately without any negotiations.
Hikers along the Gatare route in the Aberdare Forest.
Hikers along the Gatare route in the Aberdare Forest.
Image: ALICE WAITHERA

Hiking and mountain climbing are becoming popular leisure activities in Kenya among locals and foreigners. You will always find a trip to a given forest or park every weekend or during holidays, from day trips to camps and safaris.

It is fun and smiles until one, two, three people start leaving their waste materials in the forests. It might be hard to notice that someone left their dirt behind. The guards and the next visitors often encounter this.

Isn’t it time we tightened measures against plastic pollution in our parks and forests?

Introduce hefty penalties and fines in all parks applicable to anyone who enters the park with a plastic beverage can or bottle and comes back without them. Let them declare what they have on entry and exit. 

The ban on single-use plastics in protected areas effective from June 5, 2020, was announced by President Uhuru earlier this year.

Kenya joins other countries that have enforced, or announced their commitment to implement the ban, such as Seychelles and some states in the United States of America.

The ban is supported under the 2010 Constitution in Article 42, which mandates the government to assure and provide a safe and clean environment for all Kenyans.

Karura Forest is a classic example. You cannot enter the forest with a plastic water bottle; picnicking is not allowed. Picnicking is also not allowed in the forest in Kimende. The outcome is super clean, calm, and welcoming surroundings.

Article 69 mandates the state to eliminate activities and processes that are likely to damage the environment. It provides that every person has a responsibility to cooperate with state organs and other persons to protect and conserve the environment.

Thus, every individual utilising the forests and parks for whatever activity should bear the greatest responsibility for the waste they generate. Polluter Pays Principle should be applied—you pollute you pay immediately without any negotiations.

It is not the responsibility of the guards and guides to collect the dirt. Their work is to provide security and direction. However, they are forced to pick the trash.

It is out of carelessness and negligence that people litter, especially inside forests and parks. It is common sense to keep it cleaner than it was found. Better still, stay at home if you cannot be environmentally cautious. 

Being a regular hiker, I have experienced a considerable difference in forests where strict measures against single-use plastics are being exercised and areas where these rules haven’t been enforced.

Karura Forest is a classic example. You cannot enter the forest with a plastic water bottle; picnicking is not allowed. Picnicking is also not allowed in the forest in Kimende. The outcome is super clean, calm, and welcoming surroundings.

The same should be applied in all protected areas across the country. We don’t have to wait until June 5, 2020, when the ban takes effect. We need to start inculcating the culture now.

Hikers can be active ambassadors for this. I must applaud most of the hikers who have taken the responsibility of collecting plastics as they hike and for continually reminding their group members to leave the forests cleaner than they found them.

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