Kenya shoots self in the foot in war on plastics

Goats rummage through a heap of garbage.  

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

The Kenyan government is on a back-peddling mission against its own campaign against plastic bags following a proposal to impose excise duty on imports, giving local manufacturers a fighting chance to revive production.

The proposal is contained in the Finance Bill 2023 currently before the National Assembly.

The Bill seeks to remove the locally manufactured plastics from excise duty as it imposes a duty on the imported “articles of plastic of tariff heading 3923.30.00 and 3923.90.90.”

The proposal, if it becomes law in its current form, will lead to increased production of local plastics that are competitive and therefore cheaper, hence creating employment.

But even as this happens, increased production of cheaper plastics will aggravate environmental pollution concerns that have seen the government invest heavily in conservation.

Kenya had become a global reference point in the fight against plastic pollution, and making them cheaper may undo the efforts to get rid of single-use plastics within its borders.

Currently, excise duty is applicable at the rate of 10 percent on “articles of plastic of tariff heading 3923.30.00 and 3923.90.90.”

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Limited, a local audit firm, says that the proposal in the Bill will be a welcome relief as it protects local manufacturers though it goes against the government’s environmental conservation campaign that includes the elimination of the use of plastics.

“The locally produced plastics will be competitive, affordable and will lead to an increase of its consumption. But this proposal goes against the government’s agenda of discouraging the use of plastics to reduce pollution,” PwC says in its analysis of the Finance Bill.

On August 28, 2017, the Environment Management Coordination Act that prescribed penalties for the usage of plastic bags came into force.

The toughest law against single-use of plastic bags prescribes a fine of up to Sh4 million for anyone found producing, or selling the plastic bags as well as those found carrying them.

But six years down the line, single-use plastic bags remains a challenge in the country’s environmental conservation. Sugar, bread, and milk among others are still packed in plastic bags, making the implementation of the law a mockery.

This national campaign saw excise duty on articles of plastics introduced through the Finance Act of 2021. The Finance Act of 2022 further added articles of plastics under tariff 3923.90.90 to the domain of Excise duty.

While enhancing the national campaign to eliminate the usage of plastics in the country, the government embarked on packaging that is designed to be fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.

On Thursday, nominated MP John Mbadi said that the scale of the plastic waste will get worse with the production set to increase, a move that he said will greatly affect marine life.

“Despite the restrictions, there is a proliferation of plastics in the country. If the proposal in the Bill goes through, we are staring at the possibility of having more plastic than fish in the seas,” said Mr Mbadi.

The 2023 Economic Survey report shows that plastic production in the country increased by 1.4 percent in 2022 compared to 3.6 percent in 2021.

This is due to a decline in the production of sacks and bags of plastics which contracted by 7.8 percent.

However, the survey indicates that the production of plastic tanks grew by 2.8 percent.

The survey further indicates that the government’s plastics export market increased between 2018 and 2021 but dipped in 2022.

The document shows that 33,900.0 tonnes of articles of plastic were exported in 2018, 43,563.5 tonnes in 2019, 47,750.1 in 2020, 57,302.7 in 2021 and 55,980.3 in 2022.

At the same time, 471,676.2 tonnes of plastics in primary and non-primary forms were imported into the country in 2018, 501,451.4 in 2019, 569,396.2 in 2020, 576,188.6 in 2021 and 525,316.6 tonnes in 2022.

Nairobi produces around 2,400 tonnes of plastic waste a day, of which roughly 60 percent is collected and only around 10 percent recycled with the rest dumped in undesignated places or burned.

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