Do you know what a „Somali flower“ is? It describes shreds of plastic bags of various colours stuck in a thorn bush. It might as well be called a „Kenian flower“. The country is drowning in plastic. It’s bad for tourism, it’s bad for the environment, and it’s bad for us. It’s about time to do something about this.
What’s the story?
On the 15th of March this year, Environment and Natural Resources Cabinet Secretary Judi Wakhungu announced the ban of plastic bags. The ban includes the importation, manufacture and use of plastic bags with and without handles. Is this ban just a more or less subtle campaign stunt, given that the implementation date is after the August 8 General Election? Or is there perhaps hope that, unlike the three previous attempts in 2005, 2007 and 2011, this time the ban will actually have an impact? Tanzania and Rwanda have banned plastic bags (Kigali has successfully implemented a total ban on polythene bags since 2006) and called for the total prohibition of them in East Africa, so lets hope it will be enforced in Kenya as well.
Clearly, Nairobi is literally drowning in plastic waste. Plastic bags are everywhere: in rivers, in the trees, in the National Park. It is estimated that over 24 million plastic bags are used monthly, half of which end up in the solid waste mainstream. Many people can’t afford buying their own bags, so everyone uses plastic bags, given they are for free. Most of the plastic bags produced in Kenya are less than 15 microns in strength. This means that they cannot be recycled. They are not biodegradable and, when exposed to light, break down to ever smaller plastic pieces (so-called microplastics).
Due to poor or non existing waste management they end up in the environment. Standard waste management is a devolved function which means it is each county that is responsible for its solid waste management and managing its dumpsites (Judy Wakhungu, 2017). Only a few posh neighborhoods are provided with an actual waste management solution, meaning plastic bags are disposed of in waste dumps. People in rural areas, on the other hand, do not have a collection facility. Most of the litter there ends up being thrown in the manure pit and, if edible, fed to the animals. All the other stuff gets burnt, paying little attention to the fact that the burning of waste is actually unlawful. Burning plastics contributes to many toxic compounds in the air.