(Fixes typo in surname, paragraphs 1-7)
By Moraa Obiria
NAKURU, Kenya, May 2 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The
sight of overflowing heaps of plastic waste at Gioto, the
largest dump in Nakuru County, in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley, was
an eyesore that turned photojournalist James Wakibia into an
Knowing plastic was a national problem, he decided to look
beyond his hometown of Nakuru, seeking a way to capture the
attention of government and consumers in urban and rural
communities across the country.
In 2015, Wakibia started a social media campaign, using the
Twitter hashtag #banplasticsKE, to call for a ban on plastic
use, focused on bags.
A few months later, after Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for
Environment and Natural Resources Judi Wakhungu tweeted back her
support, he changed the hashtag to #IsupportbanplasticsKE.
Wakibia would go out onto the streets of Nakuru, and take
photos of people posing with a placard emblazoned with the
hashtag, posting the images on Facebook and Twitter.
His efforts have not been in vain. This February, a gazette
notice by Wakhungu announced an end to the use, manufacture and
importation of plastic bags for household and commercial
packaging in Kenya from August 28.
“I am excited my efforts have yielded this - something I
have been yearning for,” said Wakibia. “Plastic bags are such a
This is the fourth attempt by the Kenyan government to do
away with plastic bags. In 2005 and 2007, it prohibited plastic
bags with a thickness of 30 microns, and in 2011, it also banned
60-micron plastic bags, to include all those considered light
enough to be blown away by the wind.
But the measures have been a failure so far.
Across Kenya, shoppers remain addicted to plastic bags,
which are dished out at supermarkets with provisions such as
fruit and vegetables, cosmetics and toiletries - already wrapped
in other plastic bags.
Bags can also be bought separately from retail stores or
open-air stalls for 5 ($0.05), 10 or 20 Kenyan shillings,
depending on their size, for individual use.
JAIL OR A FINE
This time there will be no exceptions, said Geoffrey
Wahungu, director general of the National Environment Management
Authority (NEMA), a state agency that advises on environmental
matters and enforces related laws and policies.
The previous bans struggled because they imposed
restrictions based on a bag’s specific thickness, he said.
Now only primary packaging will be allowed, meaning
packaging at source where the plastic is in contact with the
product and is considered important for health reasons, he
Anyone in the supply chain who contravenes the gazette
notice will be subject to a one to two-year jail term, or a fine
of 2 to 4 million shillings as provided for in the 2015
environmental management law, Wahungu said.
Manufacturers, suppliers and importers have until the end of
August to clear their stocks and adopt biodegradable
alternatives, he noted.
Controlling manufacturing by unlicensed operators inside the
country could be tough, Wahungu acknowledged, but as their
supply of raw materials is cut off by the import ban, they will
likely find it hard to continue.
Meanwhile, NEMA is encouraging innovative packaging schemes
utilising sisal, water hyacinth and papyrus reeds.
Efforts have kicked off to raise public awareness ahead of
the ban through the media, county governments, religious
leaders, and community leaders and residents' associations.
The government is also introducing economic incentives to
counter potential job losses, a threat manufacturers have warned
about, including support for recycling initiatives.
Wahungu said the agency is sensitising the judiciary to
ensure smooth implementation of the ban.
And it is aiming to curtail plastic imports through closer
collaboration with the Kenya Revenue Authority, the Kenya Ports
Authority and the Kenya Bureau of Standards.
Separately, the East African Community bloc is working
towards controlling the use of plastics across the region, with
a related bill expected to come up for discussion at the
Arusha-based East African Legislative Assembly in May.
PLASTIC, PLASTIC, EVERYWHERE
Plastic accounts for around 8 percent of total waste
released into Kenya's environment, but causes some 90 percent of
pollution, choking land and marine ecosystems, said Wahungu.
Gilbert Obwoyere, dean of the Faculty of Environment and
Resources Development at Egerton University in Njoro, said
plastic waste can be found everywhere.
“Plastics hang from trees in town - there are plastics in
the air when there is wind. Oceans, lakes, rivers and wells are
all clogged with plastics. And they are not adding any value
into the ecosystem,” he said.
For him, the ban will serve as a catalyst to invent new
packaging - which Kenyans will soon have no option but to adopt.
“Once people know there are no plastics, they will come up
with something that is environmentally friendly, and might even
be cheaper,” he said.
But not all Kenyans are ready to make the transition.
Sammy Mwangi, a commercial motorcycle operator in Section 58
neighbourhood on the outskirts of Nakuru, is jittery about how
the ban will affect employees in plastic manufacturing.
“They will lose their jobs and where does the government
expect them to go?” he said.
Mokaya Nyarenchi, who hawks peeled pineapple in plastic bags
in Nakuru's central business district, is also worried.
“Introducing paper-style wraps will disadvantage traders
like me who sell fruit in small portions,” he said.
But for Albert Mose, a computer technician in the South Rift
town of Eldoret, it’s high time for Kenya to put a stop to
“It's just about people changing their attitude to embrace a
clean environment,” he said.
($1 = 103.0000 Kenyan shillings)
(Reporting by Moraa Obiria; editing by Megan Rowling. Please
credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of
Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change,
resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights.