In the toughest crack-down on single-use plastic yet, the Kenyan government has introduced a countrywide ban on the production, sale and use of plastic bags, with penalties of up to four years’ jail or fines of up to $US40,000.
Whilst critics of the ban say it will cause job losses and affect small tradespeople’s ability to sell their products, many Kenyans are pleased that the ban has finally been enforced, after ten years of government effort. Habib El-Habr, an expert on marine litter working with the UN Environment Programme in Kenya, notes that many plastic bags end up in waterways where they strangle or are eaten by marine life:
“If we continue like this, by 2050, we will have more plastic in the ocean than fish.”
There are also concerns that cattle are now routinely arriving at Kenyan slaughterhouses with up to 20 plastic bags in their stomachs. Plastics eaten by fish and animals then make their way into the human food chain.
Forty other countries have introduced some level of plastic bag ban, and although Kenya’s is potentially the harshest, Environment Minister Judy Wakhungu points out that bag manufacturers will initially be the main targets of enforcement.