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Kenyan consumers comply with total ban on use of plastic bags

by Bedah Mengo NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Kenya’s capital Nairobi looked different and cleaner as citizens largely complied with a ban on plastic bags, which took effect on Monday.

The plastic bags, initially common on the streets, retail outlets and open air markets, were nowhere to be seen as citizens went about their businesses.

It was a breath of fresh air, a sudden change of habit and a seemingly less struggle to comply with the government ban, with many satisfied with the move.

On the streets of the central business district, a survey showed that citizens had complied with the move to kick out plastic bags.

Women, who initially would be spotted with plastic bags with some carrying more than one, had replaced them with canvas bags of various colours.

Some had pink, other blue, orange and black canvas bags that signified the change with times and the love for the environment.

Along the busy Tom Mboya Street, in shops that stocked the plastic bags that went for between 0.05 U.S. dollars and 0.20 dollars, the change was evident.

On the shelves that once hosted the plastic bags now lay canvas bags each going from 0.10 dollars to 0.30 dollars depending on the size.

"Buy canvas bags, buy canvas bag at 0.10 dollars.

"Don’t be caught on the wrong side of the law," shouted a hawker carrying dozens of the canvas bags along the street.

Several pedestrians rushing to work bought the bags as the man, who had an assistant, did booming business early morning.

Away from the hawker at Muthurwa market, which was once described as the bastion of plastic bags, change was in the air.

The flea market is home to hundreds of traders and before the ban, they generated tonnes of plastic bags garbage.

The plastics, as at many other markets across Kenya, were used for packing cooked food, fresh produce, clothes, shoes and other merchandise sold at the busy facility.

But on Monday things were different, the dozens of traders who normally sell the bags to customers, had replaced their wares with canvas bags.

"10 dollars, 10 dollars....canvas bags at 10 dollars, 10 dollars," shouted one of the hawkers as he sought to attract customers.

However, as the hawkers sold the bags, traders selling produce like tomatoes, onions and potatoes had changed tactic.

Before the ban, they would offer customers plastic bags for free after buying their commodities, but on Monday, the traders asked buyers to buy the canvas bags.

"If it was my wish, I would offer you for free something to carry in your purchase as it was before but things have changed," said Mary Wanjiku, a trader.

"We have to comply with the law because we don’t want to be arrested."

Other traders packed their produce, especially the bulky ones in gunny bags doing away with the practice of stuffing them in several plastic bags.

However, not everyone at the market and the nearby Gikomba, the biggest second-hand items market in Kenya, had complied with the law, some traders could be seen packing their wares and those for customers in plastic bags.

But it is at the supermarkets that the ban on plastics had totally been complied with as the retail outlets replaced plastic bags with reusable canvas bags.

At a branch of Eastmatt Supermarket along Tom Mboya Street, the outlets branded plastic bags had been replaced with canvas bags, with each going from 0.05 dollars.

On the other hand at a branch of Naivas on the opposite street, their new mantra "use me, re-use me and try not to lose me" rent the air as customers left the stores with branded canvas bags.

"Our last day to use plastic bags was yesterday, we tried as much as possible to clear them.

"From now on, we will use a variety of canvas bags depending on the items bought," said an attendant.

Kenya notified citizens on the move to ban the use, manufacturer or importation of plastic bags six months ago in bid to have a cleaner environment and protect its natural resources including rivers.

Kenya used up to 24 million plastic bags monthly, with half ending up in the environment due to poor disposal.

Transition to alternative packing material has been slower with many waiting for the last minute.

A case to challenge the ban in court was thrown out last Friday paving way for implementation of the law on Monday.

Anyone found with plastics will now be arrested and charged, with the offence attracting a fine of between 19,417 dollars and 38,834 dollars, a jail term of between one and two years, or both.

"To avoid plastic bags, invest in reusable containers, look for alternative packing materials, use paper, steel or bamboo straws, buy unpackaged food, use degradable or reusable shopping bags made from starch, corn or potatoes," the National Environment Management Authority informed citizens.

However, not all plastic bags have been banned in Kenya.

Plastic bags used for industrial primary packaging where the product is in direct contact with the plastic and is done at the source have been exempted from the sanctions.

The environment agency on Monday said it would send out its inspectors and environment police to inspect whether manufacturers and citizens had complied with the ban.


Kenyan retailers take up plastic ban with cautious optimism

by Ben Ochieng’ and Christine Lagat NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Kenya’s landmark plastic ban that took effect on Monday received cautious welcome from retailers who expressed concern over its impact on their businesses despite its much touted environmental benefits.

The small scale retailers who spoke to Xinhua said that they were not opposed to the ban since it would reduce environmental pollution but urged authorities to provide them with alternative packaging materials to stave off losses.

"A transition from plastic bags to eco-friendly alternatives is a laudable move.

"s small business owners, we welcome this decision but hope the government has put in place solid measures to cushion us from financial losses," George Wamba, a grocery store owner at a Nairobi suburb remarked.

Cabinet Secretary for environment and natural resources Judi Wakhungu on Feb. 28 announced that the plastic ban will be implemented at the end of August in a bid to boost the country’s green credentials.

Wakhungu’s directive was however opposed by manufacturers who cited loss of jobs and revenue to the exchequer.

The high court briefly suspended the plastic ban and directed parties to resolve the issue amicably.

However, the State clarified it will not backtrack on the decision to phase out plastic carrier bags and urged manufacturers and retailers to settle for eco-friendly alternatives.

Judges at the High Court on Aug. 26 ruled that the plastic ban was still on paving the way for retailers to discard their stockpiles or pay astronomical fines.

Kenyans from all walks of life expressed mixed feelings over the plastic ban that was hailed by conservationists as a giant step towards safeguarding the country’s green future.

"I think people should be more conscious of the negative impact plastic bags are having on the environment.

"At the same time, we need to be mindful of small scale traders who rely on plastic bags for packaging.

"They should not suffer unnecessary losses," said Elvin Obure, a Nairobi youth.

Retail chains were racing against time on the eve of the plastic ban to discard the remaining stock and order biodegradable packaging materials.

Ordinary citizens are worried the plastic ban and the punitive fines to be meted on any individuals and businesses that do not comply might boomerang.

"I have no problem if the ban will help save the environment from harm but I think the authorities should have implemented it in phases and educate the public on the alternatives," said Peninah Karugi, a hair dresser.

Kenya joined Rwanda and other East African countries that have declared a ban on plastic bags citing their profound negative impact on ecosystems and human health.

The National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) in its latest assessment disclosed that plastic carrier bags contribute 9 per cent of total solid waste and are to blame for 90 per cent of environmental degradation in the country.

Kenya has over thirty licensed plastic bag manufacturers with a combined capital investment estimated at 80 million dollars.

These plastic manufacturers employ 9,000 people who are currently staring at job losses once the ban is implemented in full.




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