The plastic bags ban in Kenya came into effect yesterday, 28th August 2017. Depending on how the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources and NEMA handle the implementation, it could end up being one of the most historic days in Kenya or it could go down as one of the gazillion laws that don’t work in Kenya.
Growing up in Narok to a veterinary surgeon, I lost count of the number of times Maasai herders would come to my mum’s shop and say, “Ng’ombe imekula pombo” loosely translated to, “The cow has eaten paper bags.”
They had come to seek for a solution. The poor animal was almost always on it’s last days. The cows would end up dying in a week’s time or so, emaciated due to the inability to digest food as a result of the paper bag blocking their guts. This would spell a huge loss to the Maasai herder. Over KES 80,000 lost and all because the cow ate a paper bag worth KES 20.
So when the ban was introduced, I gave a little cheer. It was also a small way of paying home to one of my heroes Wangari Maathai.
However, I still believe that NEMA and the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources could have done more and better to transition Kenyans into the adoption of recycling and reusing materials.
On the civic education front, they haphazardly organized an expo, the Eco-friendly Alternatives Expo, at the KICC to sensitize people on the alternatives to plastics and give traders who specialize in these alternatives the opportunity to reach their future customers. I have to appreciate it for the genuine effort that it was to fill the knowledge gap between those who lived pre paper bags, like my mum and most of our parents; those who straddle the pre paper bags era, the 80’s and early 90’s babies; and the post paper bag era, late 90’s to now.
I went on Thursday to see the alternatives to the plastic bag ban.
There was a handful of people in attendance. I’d say a maximum of 200 people for the one hour that I spent at the hall and about 20 exhibitioners – a mix of MSMEs (Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises) and trading bodies, with women owning/managing a majority of the businesses.
I sought out some of the exhibitors like Susan Ombonya, a trader who makes reusable cloth bags that can be folded into the size of a clutch purse. “I welcome the ban. However, they didn’t plan this event well, they gave us such a short notice to prepare our merchandise. As you can see we don’t have enough bags to sell.”
SANABORA is a lifestyle brand creates a distinctive range of home and fashion accessories that represent a fusion of contemporary design and indigenous African concepts. The result is a range of unique, quality and timeless products with an ethnic twist.
The Production Manager, Anne Moraa reflected on the ban, “Bans and penalties on plastic bags are a step closer in mitigating environmental pollution associated with plastic bags. In Ireland, tax on plastic bags reduced plastic bag litter by 95%. However, environmental friendly materials are more expensive than plastic. For the ban to work, the government needs to reduce tax and increase subsidies on environmental friendly materials in-order to reduce the cost of raw materials for manufactures. This will make it feasible for manufactures to produce unique environmental friendly bags that are affordable for the public.”
There was also NYUMBANI VILLAGE CHILDREN OF GOD RELIEF, based in Kitui.
They run a village where they take in grandmothers and their grandchildren, house them, and provide them with opportunities to generate income through activities such as growing vegetables and making viondo’s.
A lot of their sales have been from outside the country.
With the ban, they are looking forward to seeing their sales increase. The expo was good for them, “We were able to learn what the market wants and discover what changes to make to our products to make them more attractive. We were also able to learn how to price our products for the local market.”
BINTI COLLECTIONS is a startup that sells recyclable carrier bags in bulk in addition to offering design and branding services. Their focus is on corporates who are looking to acquire bags in large quantities.
MICH CREATIONS is led by Michelle Mbughai, the Product Designer. The company has been in existence for 3 months and they make bags using gunia (sack cloth) and cotton fabrics.
They also repurpose glass bottles into household decorations.
The RETAIL TRADE ASSOCIATION OF KENYA was also at the expo. They provide retailers with a central representative body to put across their agenda and retail trade concerns to government agencies, parliament and other bodies for their benefit.
Some of their benefits include, influence, lobbying, industry information, advocacy, business networking.
Outside of KICC, the plastic bags ban received a bag of mixed reactions. A couple of open air traders whom I have spoken to are not worried. In the words of one of them, “Wataleta tu hizo zingine. Lazima wazilete.”
Some are worried, “Tutapeleka wapi stock yenye tuko nayo?”
Now the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources and NEMA, it is up to you to ensure the ban is upheld. Run the expos, create a repository of all the traders involved and support the small traders to ensure that they are able to mass produce these products, carry out extensive civic education to ensure every Kenyan citizens own and embrace the reuse, reduce, recycle mantra.
For Kenyans, it is a call to take ownership of our environment and do better.
The time to sink or swim has arrived.
A few other companies that were at the expo include: