Kenya Becomes the Latest African Country to Ban Plastic Bags
Every year, one trillion plastic single-use bags are used across the globe, or two million bags per minute. That’s a problem because plastic bags are made from petroleum, a depletable resource. According to some estimates, up to 100 million barrels of oil are used every year to make the world’s plastic bags. Yet they are used for an average of 20 minutes, and they don’t decompose.
So it’s great news that Kenya has joined several other African countries, and numerous other places worldwide, in banning the manufacture and import of all plastic bags.
Kenya’s Environment and Natural Resources Cabinet Secretary Judi Wakhungu announced the ban last week.
“It is notified to the public that the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Natural Resources has with effect from 6 months from the date of this notice banned the use, manufacture and importation of all plastic bags used for commercial and household packaging,” wrote Wakhungu.
Over 100 million plastic bags are distributed by supermarkets in Kenya, and many of them end up in huge piles at dump sites and litter the streets of Nairobi, the country’s capital.
“Kenya is taking decisive action to remove an ugly stain on its outstanding natural beauty,” said Erik Solheim, executive director of the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP).
Third Attempt To Ban Plastic Bags
Kenya has tried to ban polythene bags twice before, without much success.
In 2007, the government issued a ban against bags below 0.3 millimetres in thickness, (0.11 inches) which failed. Then in 2011 the National Environmental Management Agency declared a ban on bags below 0.6 millimetres in thickness but it too was not widely implemented.
This time the government is optimistic that the ban will work.
Plastic Bag Bans Around The World
Fifteen other African countries have either adopted or proposed such bans, including Cameroon, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Mauritania and Malawi.
The very first plastic bag ban happened in Denmark in 1993, when the country started charging for the use of plastic bags, which resulted in a 60 percent drop in bag usage. When Ireland introduced a steep fee for bags in 2003, there was a 90 percent drop in plastic bag usage and a huge reduction in litter.
The European Union has announced that it will require an 80 percent reduction of plastic bags by 2019. Other countries with some type of bag ban or bag fee include China, India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Australia, Sweden, and parts of Chile, Brazil and Argentina.
In the U.S., San Francisco was the first city to ban plastic bags, in 2007. Numerous cities and counties around the U.S. have either banned the bags or imposed a usage fee, but California and Hawaii are the only two states with plastic bag legislation.
But all this is not enough. There needs to be a plastic bag ban everywhere.
More Plastic In Our Oceans Than Fish By 2050
The first plastic sandwich bag was introduced in 1957, and department stores began the use of plastic bags in the 1970s, followed by supermarkets in the 1980s.
We didn’t need them before that, so why do we need them now?
Photo Credit: thinkstock
The answer is that we don’t, and here’s why.
Plastic bags contribute to the 8 million tons of plastic that accumulate in our oceans into every year and according to UNEP, if it continues at this rate, there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish by 2050.
These bags are a major cause of environmental damage and health problems, killing birds, fish and other animals that mistake them for food. They can choke or poison fish, animals and birds.
Care2′s Alicia Graef wrote here about the painful death of a Cuvier’s beaked whale in poor health who repeatedly tried to beach himself in Norway. Scientists made numerous unsuccessful attempts to return him to the sea, and officials eventually euthanized him.
When they took his body to the University of Bergen, they discovered that he had consumed 30 plastic bags, and had other plastic debris in his system.
There are plenty of other reasons to get rid of plastic bags.
The U.K.’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds warns that birds can mistake the bags for fish or nesting materials. If their legs or heads get tangled up in a bag, it can prove fatal.
Plastic bags can also damage agricultural land and provide breeding grounds for mosquitoes that may carry malaria and dengue fever.
Erik Solheim stated as he launched the U.N. Clean Seas campaign last month:
“It is past time that we tackle the plastic problem that blights our oceans. Plastic pollution is surfing onto Indonesian beaches, settling onto the ocean floor at the North Pole, and rising through the food chain onto our dinner tables. We’ve stood by too long as the problem has gotten worse. It must stop.”
Next time they offer you a plastic bag at your local supermarket, why not take a moment to explain why plastic bags are a really bad idea?
And good luck, Kenya, on implementing your plastic bag ban. Third time’s a charm!
Photo Credit: Zainub Razvi