Kenya has finally joined the small and exclusive club in the often intricate fight against plastic carrier bags. Only Rwanda has sustained its legal ban on the use of the plastics in the region while neighbours Uganda and Tanzania’s efforts have faltered.
The justification for ending use of plastics to carry simple things like groceries is self-evident all around us. Apart from the ugly sight they present as litter, especially in urban areas, there is the significant damage to the environment, especially agricultural lands where they log in the soil and stop percolation of water.
In urban areas, they present a menace at two levels, one is when they clog and eventually block drainage channels and pipes, causing flooding whenever it rains, the second is the convenience with which they are used to carry other life-threatening waste such as the infamous flying toilets in slums.
This phenomenon is not unique to Nairobi though, it is a reality in Kampala and Dar es Salam as well.
Kenya can pick lessons to ensure it succeeds in enforcing the ban. Rwanda provides the good lesson and the assurance that success is possible with consistent and determined enforcement. Kampala and Dar es Salaam provide good lessons on what factors can lead to failure.
In Kampala’s case, lack of resolve by those responsible for ensuring compliance, the powerful deep pocketed interested parties of traders especially importers and manufactures and political leaders afraid to stand up for what they truly believe in or know to be good for the environment.
A strong lobby of manufactures and importers of the plastic bags failed enforcement in Uganda, politicians who should have provided direction were either compromised or were themselves part of the trade/manufacture and the environmental lobby that supported the ban was neither strong enough nor consistent enough.
It is worth noting that the population was generally receptive to the ban and could endure the temporary inconvenience of adjusting to new forms of packaging. Nairobi will most likely experience the same, temporary inconvenience.
But it is also important to look at the other side and appreciate the opportunities that a ban on plastics presents an opportunity for entrepreneurs to investing environmentally friendly alternatives. Good news is that some of these alternatives like use of recycled paper and craft bags require much less capital than plastic carrier bags and, therefore, provide immense entrepreneurship opportunities especially for young people in the region.
Therefore, Kenya should be both commended and encouraged to stay the course. Rwanda already pioneered and continues to carry the torch to a brighter more environmentally friendly future.
Kampala and Dar es Salaam should pick up the pieces and gather the courage to move ahead with the ban on the plastics because nature will only favour those who treat the environment with understanding and sensitivity not those who recklessly sacrifice it to profit and short term political gain from fearing to annoy either the user population or the powerful traders and manufacturers.