The year 2017 will always be remembered as the year that Kenya banned the manufacturing, importation, and usage of plastic bags. Banning of plastic bags in Kenya has been one of the most contentious environmental debates in the recent past. Opponents of the plastic ban have always argued that the plastic sector fosters economic growth by creating employment. Proponents of the plastic ban, on the other hand, assert that the ban is the only strategy of alleviating solid waste management. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), before the ban, Kenya consumed an average of twenty million plastic bags majority of this ending dumped in water bodies such as the Indian Ocean. Evidently, Kenya’s journey to the plastic ban has been riddled with resistance.

Why has Kenya taken so long to ban plastics?

Kenya’s journey of banning plastics began in 2005 when the former president Kibaki’s administration proscribed the use of plastics under thirty microns. Two years later, the finance minister introduced a higher excise duty on plastic bags to reduce their consumption. In 2011, The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) collaboratively pushed for a ban on plastics that were less than sixty microns. All of the three attempts failed miserably. This was due to widespread protests by stakeholders in the plastic sector. In addition, consumers could not differentiate plastic bags based on their microns. This year’s plastic bag ban in Kenya also faced resistance from the plastic sector. The Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM), for example, argued that banning plastics would lead to the loss of millions of jobs in the plastic sector. As a result, KAM filed a suit at the high court to reverse the plastic bag ban. The high court of Kenya, however, ruled in favor of the defendant arguing that a plastic bag ban would have positive environmental effects that could not be equated to commercial interests.

What are the expected impacts of the plastic ban in Kenya?

Plastic bags were introduced in Kenya in the sixties as a solution to packaging problems. Although beneficial in the short run, plastic bags ended up being an environmental menace that compounded complexities in solid waste management. Rwanda was the pioneer in the East Africa region in banning plastic bags in 2004. The plastic ban in Rwanda has seen the country reap a myriad of benefits including a declaration that the country was the cleanest in Africa in the UN-Habitat. Rwanda’s success is attributable to stringent enforcement and sensitization of the community.

The plastic bag ban in Kenya is in alignment with a bill that was passed by the East African Community in 2016. Kenya stands to benefit by protecting its marine life as water bodies such as Lake Nakuru are freed from the dangers of plastic bags. Protection of marine life is particularly important in a period where the country is plagued with intense food scarcity. Kenya’s plastic ban will also ease solid waste management. Packaging will be done using eco-friendly bags which can be recycled easily.

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