Kenya: plastic in the viewfinder

They may have protested in court, but the industrialists did not succeed in this war waged by the authorities against plastic. Announced a year ago, the law banning all single-use plastics – such as water bottles or straws – in Kenya’s national parks, beaches, forests and other protected areas came into force on Friday, June 5, 2020 Three years after the ban on plastic bags – one of the strictest in the world – this new measure became more concrete on the occasion of World Environment Day.

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A decisive step

The ban was welcomed by environmental activist Dipesh Pabari, the initiator of the first sailboat entirely made of recycled plastic, which in 2019 traveled the Kenyan and Tanzanian coasts to raise awareness of plastic pollution. “We have seen the catastrophic effects that single-use plastics have on our ecosystems and communities,” he said in a statement. “And now, at the time of the pandemic, we are in the front row to see what happens when we destroy our planet,” he added.

“This ban is again a first which aims to address the catastrophic plastic pollution affecting Kenya and the world, and we hope it will catalyze similar policies and measures within the African community of the east, “said Minister of Tourism Najib Balala. Before the coronavirus epidemic, Kenya welcomed two million tourists each year, attracted by the splendid beaches of the Indian Ocean and by the discovery of the “Big Five” – ​​the five emblematic animals of the savannah.

“By banning single-use plastics in its national parks and protected areas, Kenya continues to show its commitment to tackle the global scourge of plastic pollution,” said UNEP in a statement.

But protected areas make up only about 11% of the country, and a wider ban on plastic bottles will be more difficult, according to James Wakibia, a Kenyan photographer and activist who advocated for a ban on bags in 2017.

Around the world, 127 countries have legislation that somehow governs the use of plastic bags, according to UNEP. Among them, 91 countries, including 34 in Africa and 29 in Europe, prohibit or limit its production, import or commercial distribution. And Kenyan lawmakers are among the toughest: importing and selling single-use bags is punishable by up to four years in prison or fines of up to 35,000 euros. Their simple use also gives rise to a fine of around 270 to 1,350 euros, sometimes accompanied by a sentence of one year imprisonment. Results: according to a survey by the National Environmental Management Authority of Kenya (NEMA), 80% of the population has stopped using plastic bags since the entry into force of the ban.

Government faces new challenges

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But Kenya still has a very long way to go to make the fruits of this policy visible. Despite the severe penalties provided, plastic waste has not completely disappeared. The country still has more than 170 manufacturers of plastic packaging. “It is good that Kenya is banning single-use plastics in protected areas, but are we thinking of the massive amounts of plastic waste carried by rivers in lakes and oceans? Lake Nakuru is a good example, thousands of plastic waste drips there every day, “said the environmentalist on Twitter.

The consequences of these abuses are serious for the environment, where these bags often litter the aisles, find themselves regularly blocked in the branches of trees, are sometimes ingested by cattle and end up in watercourses and l ‘Indian Ocean. A government-supported study found that more than 50% of cattle near urban areas had plastic bags in their stomachs. The consequences are also serious for populations. Plastic waste eventually clogged rivers and drains, making floods worse in the rainy season.

Another problem this time created by the ban on plastic bags: imports from China and other countries of bags often made of polypropylene cheaper than those produced on the national territory, but also of lower quality and not recyclable. Even though Africa is a world leader in terms of the number of single-use plastic ban laws in force, there is still a long way to go.

Patrick Mwesigye, regional program officer at UNEP, told AFP that the degree of success of these regulations varies from country to country. Rwanda, where plastic bags have been banned for over a decade, is considered one of the greatest successes. “But Rwanda had the advantage that a lot of plastic was not produced there,” when the ban came into force, said Mwesigye.

Countries with plastic manufacturing or import industries have found it more difficult to implement these measures because they have repercussions on employment. “In Kenya […], it worked very well. Despite everything, you still have plastic that goes underground from neighboring countries, ”like Uganda, he adds. The expert notes that some countries have implemented these bans before they have even found suitable alternatives, and that monitoring and practical implementation sometimes remain problematic.

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