A thought crossed my mind as we entered a new month. Last year, at a time like this, Kenya was grappling with the plastic bag ban set into effect by the then Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources led by Prof. Judi Wakhungu. This banned the import, manufacture and distribution of plastic bags in the country. Some said it will not work while others claimed it was a political deploy. Many were optimistic as I was and still am.
What has changed since then? Has it worked? Are there any loopholes?
What has changed is the attitude of Kenyans towards single-use plastic to some extent. When it was not so common to walk around with a basket, now it has become the trend. It may seem small but in the least, there is an increased awareness of the dangers single-use plastics pose to our environment and health. People are more cautious to reuse their reusable bags and don’t enjoy leaving them at home or even in the car when going shopping. We have embraced the reusable part while others choose to reinvent and repurpose items such as t-shirts and jeans into bags.
There is also a more cautious approach to single-use plastic consumption. Conversations on plastic straws, plastic bottles and cigarette butts are slowly being built. Ways to eliminate plastics is also a discussion. There is also the realization of whom should be held accountable for waste production and management. For plastic free nerds, this has offered a great chance to inform and spread awareness on the effects of single-use plastics. Today, when you attend a conference or high stakeholders meeting, you are gifted with a reusable carrier bag. A sign that the idea has been welcomed.
The plastic bag ban had worked in not only enlightening Kenyans but other countries as well. Several countries are in talks to introduce the ban on plastic bags. This includes African countries such as Zambia and Uganda. Other countries have vowed to reduce single-use plastic items such as straws, plates and cups in restaurants and even government buildings. We know that single-use plastics choke our environment from marine mammals and birds to the soil. We have carcasses of mammals having plastic bag filled stomachs. Some animal species are choked by plastic metal can holders while others have been found trapped in a plastic mess. This may be the unpleasant sight and tales we do hear but even though they may be negative the message needs to get far and wide.
Loopholes always exist in any system. What we need to do is identify them and take the necessary action. Currently, the plastic carrier bag with handles may not be in use but the clear bag with no handle has been seen. Even though they have become a bit expensive and pose a risk when caught selling or buying them, the item is still in use. This is possibly because we have yet to embrace better alternatives for this particular plastic bag type used to pack pastries such as mandazi’s, milk, cereals and to store food in the refrigerator. It is convenient because of its size, but unlike other plastic bags, this cannot even be reused because of its light nature.
Much has been done to reduce single-use plastics. One step at a time.
“We can’t expect change if we are not the change! Stop buying plastic bags and don’t accept plastic bags. That’s how we shall win this war.” Nelly Nyadzua