By Anne Kiruku
East African News Agency
A move by Kenya to impose a ban on the use, manufacture and importation of plastic bags is a welcome one that is likely to steer the rest of the region in adopting and implementing anti-plastic legislation.
This comes in the wake of stiff resistance to the East African Community Polythene Material Control Bill, 2016, which was moved by Patricia Hajabakiga, a Member of EALA from Rwanda.
The business community has made a submission to EALA for more consultations. The reading of the Bill was pushed to May after the East African Business Community (EABC) filed a petition to the regional Assembly to delay enactment of the law.
But many see this as simply a delaying tactic, especially since the Bill has been pending since 2011. Under all circumstances, six years ought to be more than enough for conclusive consultations.
Adoption and implementation of the anti-plastic materials law should not be facing any resistance if the regional citizens were really conscious of issues to do with the cleanliness and safety of their environment. The dangers posed by polythene materials far outweigh any monetary gains and convenience of using them.
Polythene waste pollution has worsened in the recent past due to preference of the same for manufacturing packaging bags. Nearly behind every residential building, a heap of used polythene bags is dumped, leading to environmental degradation. The menace is worsened by poor waste management across the region and the ease of recycling of polythene, which is much cheaper than producing new ones.
Kenya and Uganda had opposed the adoption of the Bill, causing the East African Legislative Assembly to shelve its debate in November last year. The debate on the Bill was thereafter pushed to January this year to allow stakeholders time to deliberate on the matter.
Rwanda had adopted the Bill in 2008 and imposed a total ban of non-biodegradable polythene bags, while Tanzania has since last year been considering imposing a similar ban.
Kenya had argued that implementation of the Bill would be a threat to local industries. There are 176 companies in Kenya dealing with polythene material, employing about 10,000 people directly and contributing $14.4 million in taxes annually. The sector is estimated to have an investment of about $415 million.
Though the issues raised by the business community should not be brushed aside, the ultimate guiding principle should be the pursuit of an environmentally cleaner and safer community.
The business community is proposing the introduction of conservation levies to discourage the use of plastic as opposed to a complete ban. Such moves, however, have in the past failed to discourage popular use of polythene papers.
Indeed, polythene materials are a huge menace to the environment and people’s health that should have been completely banned a long time ago. It takes 400 years for polythene to degrade, and this fact alone should be scary enough to cause us to embrace the anti-polythene Bill.
The dangers posed by plastic bags to soil degradation, human and animal lives due to harmful emission of toxins are fast becoming a concern around the world.
Every year, an estimated 300 million plastic bags end up in the Atlantic Ocean alone, posing a huge danger to sea life, especially the mammalian variety. Deaths of wildlife from suffocation and consumption of plastic bags are increasing each year. Every bag that ends up in the woodland of a country threatens the natural progression of wildlife.
Clogging of drainage systems during heavy rains by dumped plastic bags is a menace that cities in the region have had to contend with. Degradation of agricultural soils due to accumulation of plastic bags on the land is now becoming a threat to food security as well in the region.
The business community and all other stakeholders should now be focusing on introducing possible alternatives to plastic bags. Reusable plastic bags – which are stronger and durable – are an alternative to the ones in the market today. Reusable cloth bags – which are now gaining acceptance across the world – should be introduced as well.
Incorporating plastic-bags manufacturers into the search for alternatives is key to a successful change from their current products. Creating awareness among citizens on the dangers of plastic materials is also crucial if the ban is to be successful.
Only 11 countries on the globe have imposed a ban on plastic bags, Kenya included. In Africa, only Morocco, Botswana and Rwanda have successfully implemented the ban. Other regional partner states should now join that list by rejecting plastic bags and embracing life.