THE GODS OF PLASTIC: Part two
Over the years, the government of Kenya has been trying to find ways to manage waste disposal, especially plastic/polythene bags. According to Ondieki (2017:10) there has been three attempts to ban or control the manufacture of plastics. In 2005 Mr Kibaki’s government came up with a 10-point plan aimed at addressing the plastic menace, wherein plastics under 30 microns thick were banned. However, a plastic recycling firm that was created soon ran into headwinds. Then in 2007, Finance minister Amos Kimunya banned manufacture of polythene bags below 30 microns and introduced a 120% excise duty on them. Consequently, traders protested and Parliamentary Committee on Trade and Finance introduced a green tax instead. Again in 2011, National Environmental Management Agency (NEMA) slapped a ban on polythene bags below 60 microns and tasked the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) to execute it. This move also flopped.
It is clear that there has been no goodwill from the manufacturers in alleviating and controlling the massive production of plastics with no clear ways of disposing them. Nonetheless the fight has been revived once again. On February 28 2017, in a notice published in the Kenya Gazzete, Prof Wakhungu ordered polythene bags, both carrier bags and flat bags, commonly used to wrap foodstuff and shopping, done away with by August 28. She banned ‘the use, manufacture and importation of all plastic bags used for commercial and household packaging’. This announcement commended by UN came three weeks after the launching of UN Environment “Clean Seas Initiative”. It is also in tandem with the intention of The East African Legislative Assembly in banning the use of polythene bags across the region. The Executive director of UN Environment, Mr Erik Solheim, was convinced that this step will help Kenya ‘to remove an ugly stain on its outstanding natural beauty’.
However, The Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM), as usual sees the ban as affecting the country more negatively than positively, arguing that over 176 plastic manufacturers in Kenya directly employ 2.89% of all Kenyans and indirectly employs over 60,000 people. They further argue that the six months’ notice is not enough to clear stock and to find alternative packaging. These are the two formidable arguments they have been using all these years to continue manufacturing plastics. It appears that it is a lesser evil to destroy the environment in order to create jobs.
This is absurd and if it worked before, we just have to look at our surroundings from the Suburbs of Langata-Karen to the slums of Kibera, from Upper Hill to Mathare Valley to conclude that it is time to do away with plastic bags. In fact, the famous Nairobi River has become ‘Plastics River’ thanks to the youths who collect garbage from residents’ doorsteps at a fee and dump them in the river.Note that the current Nairobi Governor, Dr Kidero argues that the city produces 1,700 tonnes of solid waste daily, much of which is plastic. According to Kanyiha MP 86, 000 plastic bags are handed out in Nairobi daily. Internationally, in one day there is 3200 km of trucks carrying plastics. Monetary wise, it costs US$4000 to recycle 1 tonne of plastic bags. Given the quantity of plastics manufactured, disposed, and possibly recycled daily, it is not imprudent to conclude that we can do much better without plastic bags.
From the above few facts, it has become expedient to again ban plastics. However, since the manufacturers are not showing goodwill, people are looking for alternative ways of fighting this menace. For example, Kanyiha MP has created a site called Avaaz.org wherein people sign up to push for diverse causes. His intention is to collect 100,000 signatures to petition the Industrialisation Cabinet Secretary (CS), Adan Mohamed and the KAM to stop the manufacturing of plastics.
Time will tell whether this ban will be effected successfully. Certainly, the gods of plastics will not sit down and watch their creation destroyed. Meanwhile, Kenyans will have to contend with the recent shocking revelations that the air in Nairobi city has cancer causing elements of 105 microgrammes per cubic metre, a figure that is 10 times more than the WHO threshold of 20 microgrammes per cubic metre.This is greatly attributed to the fumes that come from plastic bags that are burned in the dumping site and in people’s home.
 Ondieki E 2017. Plastic bag ban gets support. Daily Nation, Thursday March 16. p 10.
Kilonzo, E 2017. Air pollution reduces effectiveness of antibiotics. Healthy Nation. No. 019 March 14, 2017. p8.
By Robert Kinena Ndung’u, MCCJ