Looking back on success of Kenya’s ban on plastic bags

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Close to a year ago, Kenya introduced one of the toughest laws on the use of one-time plastic carrier bags. Punishment for carrying, using or selling the bags can include a fine ranging from between 19-thousand to 39-thousand dollars – or four years in jail. In markets across the country, it is clear that Kenyans have adjusted well to the ban, with several alternatives in place.

Early morning at the fig tree market in Nairobi, trader Moses Mutua is up and about selling his wares. Mutua sells carrier bags to traders and buyers at this market. He says it is a profitable job.

“My business is going well compared to the business to paper bags we were using before. When I was selling the nylon I was getting at very low price, but now I am getting more than a thousand per day.”

The ban on plastic bags seems to be working, as authorities say compliance is at nearly 100 percent. The initial knock-on effects included job losses in factories that made the plastic carrier bags, but the National Environment Management Authority, NEMA, says job losses were minimal. The success outweighs the setbacks.

NEMA Director, David Ong’are, “The streets are generally cleaner and this has contributed generally to a happier population. It has also created quite a number of opportunities and we have seen people revive industries that has collapsed.  One such industry is the Sisal Industry which produces alternatives”

The harsh fines or prison sentences may have served as an initial deterrent for anyone who may have wanted to resist the ban, but now even consumers agree the ban could not have come at a better time. James Mwangi, a fruit vendor, says both traders and consumers have adjusted.

“Everything is going smooth. The customer agree now, they are doing well. They carry the bag, instead of using plastic now, they use the bag.”

At a section of the Nairobi river, the murky water now flows a little easier. The river, however, exposes Kenya’s unfinished business – plastic bottles make up much of the waste that still needs a lasting solution.

David Ong’are says, “We have met the manufacturers and they have put in a good design of a take back scheme so that once purchases are done , they are able to mop up these from the environment and them recycled.”

Kenya’s bold decision has set a precedent among her neighbours and other countries further from here.

Onga’re says, ” We understand that people are weighing economics versus the environment and it sometimes not the easiest decision, quiet low set pace for the rest f the world.

Even as it studies the effects of the ban a year on, NEMA agrees that success will eventually depend on a proper waste management plan for East Africa’s biggest economy.