In an effort to protect the environment, Kenya’s national government has recently introduced a strict new ban on plastic bags. It is the third time the government has tried to ban plastic bags in the last ten years but now any person found selling, manufacturing or carrying plastic bags could face fines of up to $38,000 or a four-year jail sentence.
BBC reports that “Kenya’s ban is seen as one of the toughest in the world, although officials say that for now, ordinary shoppers will be warned and have their bags confiscated.” Like many other African countries, plastic bags dotted across the landscape is a common sight.
It is estimated that 24 million bags are used a month across Kenya. Having become so accustomed to using plastic bags, it will take time for businesses and customers alike to phase them out and switch to more environmentally friendly alternatives. For the time being plastic bags will be confiscated from offenders but they will not yet be arrested or charged. International travellers visiting Kenya will be required to leave any plastic bags they bring at the airport before entering the country.
Judy Wakhungu, Kenya’s Environment Minister, told the BBC “Plastic bags now constitute the biggest challenge to solid waste management in Kenya. This has become our environmental nightmare that we must defeat by all means.” She added that plastic bags take between twenty to one thousand years to biodegrade
Wasted plastic bags are not only a major environmental concern but a health risk as well. In Kenya there are grave concerns around plastic contamination in beef and other animals after plastic bags have recently been pulled out of livestock animals that are slaughtered for human consumption.
Commenting on why plastic is harmful, the Plastic Pollution Coalition notes that “Toxic chemicals leach out of plastic and are found in the blood and tissue of nearly all of us. Exposure to them is linked to cancers, birth defects, impaired immunity, endocrine disruption and other ailments.”
Plastic bags also cause serious health concerns when they make their way into the world’s oceans and lakes. The number one issue of plastics getting into the oceans is the risk of marine life getting entangled in it. The second biggest issue is the impact of marine animals eating plastics. ABC News reports that “These plastics can cause blockages of the gut or perforation of the intestines. Ingestion of plastic can also cause toxic chemicals such as phthalates – a plasticiser that effects the hormone system – to leach into the animal.”
The Plastic Pollution Coalition says that “even plankton, the tiniest creatures in our oceans, are eating microplastics and absorbing their hazardous chemicals. The tiny, broken down pieces of plastic are displacing the algae needed to sustain larger sea life who feed on them.”
Clearly, it will take time to completely phase out plastic bags from Kenyan citizens’ normal way of life. Habits can be hard to change overnight but the stiff penalties applied to the use of plastic bags should help encourage people to switch to more environmentally friendly packing bag alternatives. Kenya’s new law should also set an example for other countries to follow as the fight against plastics and effectively dealing with the harmful environmental and health effects they cause, has to be a global effort.
Image courtesy of Flickr. Originally published by S&S on December 14, 2017.