Kenya has been in the press for the last couple of weeks because the result of last month’s presidential election was declared null and void by the Nairobi courts: a landmark ruling on the continent of Africa. What has gone unnoticed is Kenya’s ban on carrier bags which is the harshest in the world.
Punishment for carrying, manufacturing, or importing lightweight plastic bags ranges from $19,000 to $38,000 or a jail term of up to four years! And we think we’re hard done by paying 5p for a bag!
Traders in Nairobi swapped cheap lightweight plastic bags for cartons, paper bags and envelopes, while grocery stores sold reusable fibre bags and cardboard boxes.
This ban marks the third time Kenya has tried to cut down on plastic bags; an estimated 100 million bags are given out by supermarkets every year. Previous attempts focused on bags of a certain thickness and were never really enforced. Today bags litter most Kenyan roads, clog sewers and streams, damaging soil and water sources and harm animals that eat them.
About a dozen other African countries have instituted taxes as well as full, or partial bans on plastic bags, including Rwanda, Mauritania, and South Africa. More than 40 countries around the world have similar policies in place. Costa Rica is working toward banning all single-use plastic by 2021. Large retail shops in the UK have to charge 5p per plastic bag. The US has no national ban or tax on plastic bags.
Supporters of the ban in Kenya claim it will give rise to new businesses. Already, traders are selling canvas bags, baskets, and tote bags. The ban has caused the loss of thousands of jobs as manufacturers suspended operations to avoid steep fines. Makers of alternative carrier bags are, however, doing booming business.