In Kenya, plastic bags were officially banned in August 2017 attracting a jail term of up to 4 years or a maximum fine of Ksh. 400,000.
It is considered as one of the most stringent bans worldwide.
Arguing that plastic bags manufactured for single-use are harmful to the environment, the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) seeks to reduce the impact of these non-biodegradable materials.
However, earlier in March this year, the European Union voted to ban not just plastic bags but all single-use plastics in the union by 2021. Should Kenya follow up with the same?
What are single-use plastics?
The United Nations Environmental Protection agency (UNEP) defines single-use or disposable plastics as items intended to be used only once before being discarded.
Straws, plastic soda and water bottles, cigarette butts, food wrappers, and the now globally dreaded plastic bags are examples of single-use plastics.
Globally, the UN reports that 1 million plastic bottles are purchased every minute while up to 5 trillion single-use plastic bags are used worldwide every year.
According to the National Geographic 40% of plastic produced is packaging and is used once before being discarded.
Is plastic a menace?
Since it’s inception in 1907, plastic has revolutionized all sectors of the economy from health, food, education, and technology.
Due to it’s cheap, lightweight and easy to make nature, it has allowed thousands around the world to access services and products they would have previously not been able to afford.
Plastic has many benefits, however poor consumer habits and substandard manufacturing of these products have created an environmental nightmare the world is yet to see before.
Bangladesh in 2002 was the first nation in the world to ban plastic bags, after discovering the bags were blocking drainages during a flood.
Half of all plastic waste dumped into the ocean originates from 5 Asian countries: China, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam according to a 2015 report by Ocean Conservancy report.
Alternative Sustainable Materials
As Kenya’s manufacturing sector grows, both the government and private sector should promote the use of alternative materials to products made of single-use plastics.
A good example is the bamboo plant which is disposable and can make disposable cutlery and straws. Plastic cutlery and straws currently pollute the environment because they are not reusable.
Educating the masses on the importance of reducing and proper management of plastic waste will go a long way because policies alone will not solve the problem if people’s mindset remains the same.