Kenya’s Battle against Plastic Bags

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A pig searches through a mountain of plastic waste accumulated before the ban. (Photo credit: Anthony Ndulenyi)

There’s a growing movement in the United States to eliminate the use of plastic shopping bags. Some countries have taken the lead in this movement, including Kenya in east Africa.

Plastic shopping bags have been banned in Kenya for almost three years, and the ban has had a definite impact on Kenya’s society and people’s daily lives.

The ban was the result of a long campaign led by James Wakibia, a local student who made people realize that plastic bags were symbolic of the need for major environmental improvements.

Before the ban, the use of plastic bags was very common in Kenya, but they weren’t disposed of properly and often ended up in the streets and waterways.

When the government decided to strictly enforce the ban, plastic bag litter was almost entirely eliminated. “When it was said that people had to stop using those plastic bags, we saw that it was better,” says Teresia Ngini, a local resident in the outskirts of Nairobi. “We will have a cleaner environment.”

There are harsh penalties for anyone found using plastic bags — fines of thousands of dollars or years in jail — making Kenya’s bag ban among the most severe in the world.

Not everyone is happy with the ban, however: many vendors used to sell fruits and vegetables in plastic bags, and buyers would use them as well to keep produce fresh longer. Not being able to use plastic bags has caused inconvenience for many.

Despite this, Kenyan citizens have been able to find ways to cope with the ban: people are now using reusable fabric bags and baskets to do their shopping, as they did years ago before plastic bags became common.

So far, the ban has been helping to make living conditions in Kenya a bit better. Streets and waterways are much cleaner compared to other developing countries where plastic bag litter is everywhere. This is just a small step in making the country — and the rest of the world — a cleaner place.