Lessons Kenya could learn from Rwanda on Plastic Bags Ban

By Winnie Maina | Monday Nov 6, 2017

It is almost 10 years since Rwanda imposed the ban on plastic bags and the ban is actually paying off. Taking a look at the streets of the capital city Kigali and across other areas of the country they are virtually spotless. Every last Saturday of the month led by the President everyone takes part in cleaning.

All around the country they have plastic-bag vigilantes, who inform the authorities about suspected sales or use of plastic. As visitors arrive through the airport or border they are not allowed to pass with any plastic bags.

Kenya finally imposed the ban in August 2017 after three attempts over ten years to finally pass the ban, and not everyone is a fan. Samuel Matonda, spokesman for the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, said it would cost 60,000 jobs and force 176 manufacturers to close. Kenya is a major exporter of plastic bags to the region. The effects will also be felt highly by women who sell their vegetables in the market.

It was important for the country to impose the ban, taking a look at the environs of Nairobi you find that the city is littered with the plastic bags. According to El- Habr plastic bags take between 500 to 1,000 years to break down. There are, of course, many environmental threats on the continent, including poaching, water pollution and deforestation.

An official from Rwanda says that imports have their plastic packaging removed at customs unless removal would cause damage to the goods. If that’s the case then it is a requirement for the stores to remove the packaging before handing the goods to the customer.

The biodegradable bags are only allowed for frozen meat and fish, and are not allowed for other commodities like fruits and vegetables because such bags still take as long as 24 months to decompose. 

Kenyans are slowly adapting to the ban. Supermarkets no longer pack goods in plastic bags, they have Eco-friendly bags which are available at a small fee, if not the customers are allowed to carry their own bags for packaging.

The SME’s have had a difficult time and they are complaining that the alternatives are much more expensive than the plastic bags, with time the prices may go down as more players in the market go into manufacturing. It might also be the price that we have to pay to make our city clean and also eco-friendly. 

The ban in Kenya has some exemptions extended for bags used for industrial primary packaging, where the product is in direct contact with the plastic and is done at the source. According to the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) “Flat bags used as waste liners for hazardous waste, including medical waste and chemicals and regular waste garbage bin liners, are also exempt from the ban,” the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) said in a statement.

A journey begins with a step and for our journey in phasing out plastics in our country has begun. We can learn a few lessons from Rwanda on the far they have reached. 

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