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Opinion & Analysis

Market alternatives to plastic bags

A hawker sells biodegradable shopping bags at the Nyeri matatu terminus on August 28, 2017. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NMG
A hawker sells biodegradable shopping bags at the Nyeri matatu terminus on August 28, 2017. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NMG 

The ban on plastic carrier bags has been in force for several days now. I have written about it on two editions of this publication. In both I have been in support of the regulation.

A few days ago, I was speaking to two friends about the impact of the ban. To be clear, I still support the ban. It is good for our environment. However, some of its negative consequences witnessed recently highlight the need for sustainable development.

Sustainable development is about balancing both environment and development imperatives.

There are several businesses that have either been caught unaware or are suffering from the consequences of the ban.

The first friend discussed about a woman who had lost her job since the ban came into effect. She was selling crisps, which were being packed in polythene papers.

Polyethene is a type of plastic, therefore subject to the ban. Following the ban her employer had not found a useful alternative to pack crisps.

Today she cannot feed her family. She did not even know that the ban was in the offing until she lost her only means of earning a living.

The second friend traversed some part of the country and observed first-hand the impact of the ban on what she called the “kidogo economy.” This encompases small-scale traders, like mama mbogas (vegetables) to ordinary citizens.

These traders provide the added service of cutting the vegetables and then packing them in polyethene bags. With the ban, they are now not sure how to pack their stock to their clients.

The above are just two examples of the negative impacts of the ban, which may not find its way in the public limelight.

It is important that these get discussed. The intention is not to change my stand in supporting the ban. It is to demonstrate that public policy has both negative and positive consequences.

For those of us who are environmentalists we cannot wish these negative consequences away. It is for this reason that the process of implementing the ban should have been accompanied by a more robust communication strategy.

Secondly in implementing the ban, the country needs to focus on alternatives. Not just for the big businesses, but also for the mama mbogas and also for households.

This is what prudent policy making and regulation requires. The events should not be used as an excise to generate negative perceptions against the ban. In the long-term, the country’s environment and economy will benefit from the ban. To reach that destination, it is important that we address some of the teething problems.

It is time to find ways of introducing alternatives. In houses people who have been used to packing food and other household goods in polyethene papers are struggling to find alternatives. They should not be left to their own devices. It is the duty of the government to lead the process of developing alternatives for citizens.

I hope the next few weeks will see engagement in dealing with the challenges that the implementation has brought to Kenyans. This is the way to support its implementation.

Sustainable development requires that we balance the interest of the economy against those of the environment and those of society. Society is about human beings.

As long as we do ignore the challenges that ordinary citizens are facing as the ban gets implemented, then we unwittingly fail to live within the dictates of the Constitution, which clearly provides that sustainable development is one of the hallmarks of governance.

The ban on plastic came into force through a gazette notice by the Cabinet Secretary in charge of the environment. This is a governance decision. We all should support the ban because it was made in the interest of the environment and the country.

Such support, however, cannot ignore the negative consequences it is having on sections of the economy and the society.

It is important that greater efforts be made on identifying and popularising alternatives that ordinary citizens can use so that they support the ban without having to lose their livelihoods.

These options are possible. We just have to invest in identifying them and ensuring they are adopted.

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