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29 August 2017

Kenya passes strict plastic bag ban after a 10-year legislative marathon

Kenya passed a law which made making, selling and using plastic bags illegal and punishable by up to four years' imprisonment or $40,000 in fines, in an attempt to reduce the nation’s plastic pollution.

The Law came into effect this Monday, and constitutes a legislative initiative that took three attempts over ten years to pass.

Habib El-Habr, an expert on marine litter working with UN Environment in Kenya said that many of the bags used in Kenya end up into the ocean, strangling turtles, suffocating seabirds and filling the stomachs of dolphins and whales with waste until they die of starvation.

“If we continue like this, by 2050, we will have more plastic in the ocean than fish”, he said.

El-Habr says that plastic bags take between 500 to 1,000 years to break down, also entering the human food chain through fish and other animals.

Allegedly, in Nairobi’s slaughterhouses, cows destined for human consumption had up to twenty bags each removed from their stomachs.

Mbuthi Kinyanjui, a county vet, said: “This is something we didn’t get ten years ago but now it’s almost on a daily basis”, raising fears over plastic contamination in beef and other livestock.

Judy Wakhungu, Kenya's Environment Minister told BBC: "Plastic bags now constitute the biggest challenge to solid waste management in Kenya”.

She added: “This has become our environmental nightmare that we must defeat by all means”, justifying the strict punitive approach.

The newly passed Law is the stricter the world has seen, even allowing police officers to pursue those carrying plastic bags, but according to Mrs Wakhungu enforcement initially targets manufacturers and sellers.

The National Environment Management Authority (Nema) says that, currently, enforcement officers can only confiscate plastic bags, but not arrest offenders.

In addition, travellers coming into Kenya with duty-free plastic shop bags will be obliged to leave them at the airport.

Last week, High Court dismissed a case filed by two plastic bags importers urging it to drop the ban, but the Court ruled that environmental concerns were more important than commercial interests.

Kenya joined a network of more than forty other countries that have banned, partly banned or taxed single use plastic bags, including China, UK, Italy, Rwanda, Mauritania and Eritrea et al.

However, Samuel Matonda, spokesman for the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, said that the Association was not happy with the ban, and it warns that this could cost 60,000 jobs and force 176 manufacturers to close- as Kenya is a major exporter of plastic bags to the region.

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