Kenya has had a thriving plastic industry ever since 1930, with East Africa depending on it for plastic bags and other plastic products. Today there are over 30 plastic bag manufacturers with a total capital investment of $77.3 million in the country. Last week, the Kenyan capital finally ratified the world’s harshest plastic bag ban after three years of discussion, ruling that producing, selling or even using plastic bags in Kenya could lead to imprisonment of up to four years or fines of $40,000. Kenyan hypermarket chains like Carrefour and Nakumatt have already started offering customers cloth bags as alternatives as the law takes effect this week starting Monday.
While the text describing the new controversial law allows police to go after anyone even carrying a plastic bag, the Kenyan Minister of Environment Judy Wakhungu said enforcement would initially be directed at manufacturers and suppliers. “[Common people] will not be harmed,” she assures.
Although it seems like the right thing to do, as Kenya joins countries like China, France and Italy in announcing war on plastic, some argue that the ban would not only be a war on plastic, but also be a war on Kenya’s economy. The ban would cost 60,000 jobs and force 176 manufacturers to close, argues Samuel Matonda, spokesman for the Kenya Association of Manufacturers.
On the other hand, the overuse of plastic bags in Nairobi in addition to the environmentally-unfriendly way of disposing them often means that plastic bags end up in the stomachs of fish and even livestock. “If we continue like this, by 2050, we will have more plastic in the ocean than fish,” says Habib El-Habr, an expert on marine litter working with the UN Environment Program in Kenya. It wasn’t often that slaughterhouses would witness this, but it is not uncommon today for cows being prepared for human consumption have plastic bags removed from their stomachs on a daily basis. The United Nations’ Environment Program in Kenya has witnessed huge amounts of polythene bags being pulled out of livestock in Nairobi’s slaughterhouses – as many as 20 bags per cow.