Kenya: How ban on plastic bags inspired innovators to create eco-friendly alternatives
Children play football on a former dump in Mathare, a shanty town where plastic rubbish was once as high as a man, say locals. Photograph: Jonathan Watts for the Guardian UK
London, August 13, 2018 (AltAfrica)-Nearly one year since Kenya imposed a plastic bags ban, the country’s streets are cleaner, waterways are clearer and plastic bags are slowly becoming a thing of the past.
The implementation of the new law is successful due to the availability and widespread adoption of eco-friendly, reusable alternative packaging materials.
“We have moved on,” Selina Wangari, a shopper in Nairobi’s Gikomba market, told The EastAfrican.
“The new eco-friendly bags are slightly expensive but we have learnt to reuse them, something we had never done before because supermarkets and traders gave us the bags freely.”
Kenya effected its plastic ban on July 28, 2017, prohibiting the use, manufacture or importation of plastic bags, with offenders, risking imprisonment of up to four years, or a fine of between $19,417 and $38,834.
Eco-friendly, reusable packing made from non-plastic materials including jute/sisal, paper and papyrus, gunny bags, starch and cassava have since been rolled out in the market.
Ruth Kwamboka sells snacks and compostable bags to shoppers at her stall in Kawangware, Nairobi. Photograph: Jennifer Huxta for the Guardian UK
While hundreds of jobs are estimated to have been lost when factories manufacturing plastic bags were shut down in the country, The EastAfrican understands that a number of manufacturers producing the recommended packaging materials have since come up.
In the first month of the ban, manufacturers from Rwanda, which banned plastic bags in 2008, exported 78 tonnes of biodegradable bags made from paper, clothes and sisal worth $250,000 to Kenya.
Rwanda was one the first countries to ban plastic bags in 2004, when it prohibited shops from using them as packaging material, and introduced tax breaks to encourage manufacturers to recycle.
Four years later, the country imposed a total ban on non-biodegradable polythene bags and encouraged manufacturers to produce environmental friendly packaging materials such as paper bags, woven sisal bags and clothe bags.
According to a recent report by the UN Environmental Programme (Unep), there are tens of different alternative packaging solutions, which can be adopted to keep the environment clean.
The study highlighted 25 case studies from around the world, illustrating a wide range of applications of some relatively conventional alternatives to plastics — such as paper, cotton, and wood — as well as less obvious solutions including algae, fungi and pineapple leaves.
“Making the switch from disposable plastic to sustainable alternatives is an investment in the long-term future of our environment,” said Erik Solheim, head of Unep, in the report.
“The world needs to embrace solutions other than single-use, throwaway plastic,” the report added.
More than 25 countries across the world, have either adopted or proposed a form of a ban on plastic bags.
Last week, Chile became the first country in South America to ban the commercial use of plastic bags, giving large and smaller businesses six months and two years respectively to phase out theie use.
In response to the ban, Chilean company Solubag developed a water soluble plastic bag through a cost-effective formula.