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Ideas & Debate

Uhuru’s single-use plastics ban needs legal backing

Plastic bottles and bags dumped in Nairobi
Plastic bottles and bags dumped in Nairobi River. PHOTO | KANYIRI WAHITO  

Two years ago Kenya banned the use, manufacture and sale of environmentally harmful single-use plastic carrier bags. This year during the commemoration of the World Environment Day, President Uhuru Kenyatta banned the use of single-use plastics in protected areas which covers national parks, forests, and beaches.

The ban becomes effective on June 5, 2020. This is a good move and Kenya seems to be moving in the right direction to protect the environment. However, the President’s orders might be hard to implement without proper legislative frameworks and regulations.

Studies show that plastic bags and plastic containers can take up to thousand years to decompose, causing threats to wildlife, people and the environment. Marine species of all sizes, from zoo plankton to whales, have been affected by plastic pollution. Plastic also attracts and concentrates other pollutants from surrounding seawater, posing a contamination risk. Scientists are studying the impacts of that contamination on fish as well as the possible impact it may have on human health.

Research reports such as the United Nations Environment Programme’s 2018 report on single-use plastics indicate that the production of plastic has outpaced that of every other material. Much of the plastic is designed to be thrown away within a few minutes of its first use. Plastics produced on land end up is the oceans forming marine debris. To deal with marine plastic pollution problem, production and use of plastics on land need to be dealt with.

The plastic industry has proclaimed for a long time, the false solutions of recycling. However, the real problem is the production of single-use plastics. Production of single-use plastic items such as carrier bags and polythene terephthalate (PET) bottles is a bad idea. Recycling single-use plastics encourages consumers to buy and hurl more plastic instead of reusing items. Thus, recycling will never solve the problem.

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More and more local businesses are coming up with new ways of doing business such as bringing local, fresh produce to people without plastic packaging. Bans on the production and use of single-use plastic materials are the most effective way to rid the world of the plastic crisis. The government should compel the plastic industry to provide more sustainable alternatives to single-use plastics.

Kenyan laws provides the government with the mandate to assure and provide all Kenyans with a clean, safe and healthy environment and eliminate all processes and activities that degrade the environment.

Following the president’s directive to ban all single-use plastics in protected areas, the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) needs to work with relevant agencies to develop regulations to ensure this directive is effectively implemented come June, 2020.

There is also need to extend this ban through legal frameworks backed by the Constitution to all single-use plastics not only in protected areas but in the entire country. This could provide the much desired dream of a future of clean cities, rivers and beaches in Kenya.

A systems approach, putting in place strategic interventions across the plastic industry is needed to create a path to no plastic future. We need to build on and reinforce existing initiatives such as the current ban on single-use carrier bags, the president’s directive and upgrade national waste management plans.

At the same time there is a need to create a global accountability mechanism since plastic pollution is cross-border challenge.

Additionally, consumers need to be provided with alternative choices to plastics through research and development of solutions by the plastic industry and governments.

It is time to demand progressive laws and better systems that facilitate and promote reusing and refilling. Reducing and restricting the use of all single-use plastics packaging through legislative frameworks such as bans will accelerate the transition to a plastic free future and avoid the impending plastic crisis.

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