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Kenya Has the Strictest Plastic Bag Ban on the Planet; How Successful Has it Been?

Successfully sending volunteers abroad for 10 years

It’s not a well-known fact, but Kenya, while being a major destination for those wanting to volunteer abroad has been spearheading the world’s environmental action for some three years now, since its 2017 ban on plastic bags was introduced. But, have the results of this meant that there has been an all-out success for all concerned? 

Following a study that was supported by the National Environmental Management Agency (NEMA), the findings from this research discovered that over half of the cattle living in places close to urban areas in Kenya had plastic bags in their stomachs. This led to the United Nations calling out Kenya for allowing no fewer than 100 million plastic bags to be taken from the supermarkets annually. What’s more, the vast number of plastic bags were clogging up the drainage systems, resulting in the rainy season flooding becoming far worse, so the Kenyan government moved to stem the flow of negative impacts the plastic bags were causing. Since the action taken in March 2017, Kenya along with Rwanda has just become one of the cleanest nations in the world. 

Positive Action

When Kenyan officials put the ban on plastic bags in place, they favoured reusable polypropylene versions, with authorities implementing fines and threats to certify positive, successful outcomes. The risk for those who continued to produce or sell non-reusable plastic bags was fines of up to $40,000 or up to four years’ imprisonment as well as up to 12 months in jail or fines up to $500 for individuals found to be carrying a plastic bag. 

Has the Kenyan Plastic Bag Ban Worked?

12 months after the country’s plastic bag ban was brought in, “the Kenya government says 80% of the population has stopped using plastic carrier bags.” A decrease in litter means that a cleaner environment is created for one of the most popular travel destinations in Africa. However, the ban has not gone without being the target of some criticism. 

What is Holding the Plastic Bag Ban Success Back?

There is an agreement that the reduction in plastic bag use has seen a positive outcome, but there are some snags which are holding things back. For example, the reusable synthetic bags that has now been rolled out for widespread use may not be quite as eco-friendly as they’re professed to be. Research published in Environmental Sciences and Technology cited that one brand of self-labelled “eco-friendly” bags produced using several organic and plastic materials didn’t degrade entirely; even after three years of being exposed to open light and air, buried in garden soil, submerged in ocean water, or stowed away in a laboratory. It’s therefore reasonable to support the notion that there are cons of reusable bags that people should be informed about. 

Another problem that has arisen is the illegal importation of plastic bags from neighbouring countries, such as Uganda. There, the plastic bags are ever-present, the U.N. Environment Program officials state, and their findings go on to say that, “the sheer number of people crossing, combined with the availability of plastic bags on the Ugandan side, means sneaking them across the porous border is relatively easy.” 

The plastic bag ban has caused a ripple effect in the job market too and has reduced the number of available positions for people to find gainful employment. Prior to the plastic bag ban, Kenya was the home of 170 plastic-producing companies and these businesses employed nearly 3% of Kenya’s entire workforce. Following on from the year and a half after the ban, a sizable 60,000 jobs were lost; both directly and indirectly. 

The fibre bags that are mandatory for use in Kenya cost roughly six times more than plastic bags; a cost that is subsequently loaded onto small business owners, because customers often refuse to pay extra. And as there aren’t any subsidies available from the government, the country’s small business owners turn over a reduced profit compared to when plastic bags were freely available. 

Looking at the Encouraging Aspect

Regardless of the current ongoing sticking points that have come to light after the ban, just eight months after the implementation of the plastic bag cull and outlawing, authorities in Kenya claimed success on the issue of plastic bags and the environment. In fact, progress was so remarkable in Kenya that other East African nations, such as Burundi, Tanzania and South Sudan, have followed suit and brought in their own bans on plastic bags. 

Just the Tip of the Iceberg

Thanks to the successful banning of plastic bags in Kenya, the country has taken another stride forward to eradicate the country of single-use plastics this year (2020). Building on this success, a fresh Kenya plastic ban that will see the complete prohibition of the production, selling and use of plastic cups, straws, utensils, plates, and water bottles will kick in as of June 5th, 2020. 

It will be a case of “watch this space” to see how the next stage of Kenya’s environmentally-friendly crusade will impact not only the environment but also the people, wildlife, businesses, and landscape of the East African nation.

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