Consumers hit as plastic bags trade goes secret

A fresh produce trader arranges her wares. photo | file
A fresh produce trader arranges her wares. photo | file 

Plastic carrier bags have re-emerged in most grocery markets, making a mockery of last year’s ban and imposing additional cost on consumers who are forced to pay more for the product.   

Smugglers at Kenya’s border points have been enjoying an unlikely black market boom trading in the illegal plastic bags.

Groceries markets in residential areas and big towns are the hotspots for the smuggled plastic bags that have in the past couple of months grown rapidly, neutralizing  Kenya’s efforts to outlaw use of the non-biodegradable bags.

Kenya announced last March that it would ban manufacture, importation and use of all plastic bags in commercial and household packaging and put the ban into effect on August 28, 2017.

The landmark move - the third attempt in a decade - saw it join the community of nations that are leading the war against use of plastics.


Anyone found selling, manufacturing or carrying them could face fines of up to Sh4 million or prison sentences of up to four years.

The environmental watchdog in an interview admitted that the influx of the smuggled plastic bags are a grave concern, but added that the agency is stepping up its crackdown to deal with the underground market.

“Compliance levels are over 80 per cent. We still have some challenges in terms of the black market. We have information that some of the plastic bags are basically coming from neighbouring countries through the border points,” the National Environmental Management Authority (Nema) legal services director Irene Kamunge said in an interview.

Ms Kamunge did not specify the source countries of the smuggled plastic bags. She, however, warned of an impending crackdown along the border points to curb the illegal imports.

“We will intensify our surveillance. In terms of re-emergence I don’t think its re-emerging. I don’t want to divulge where we are headed. We will pounce on them,” she said.

Ms Kamunge said local markets and green grocers have been identified as the hotspots for the illegal sale of the smuggled plastic bags.

“We still have a few problems with regards to markets. Ngara markets, Gikomba market, City Market, and Mlolongo are among areas where there is a challenge. But we are now working with the police so it is no longer a Nema affair,” she said.

She said Nema would not back down on enforcement until Kenyans comply fully.

“155 arrests have been made so far. Four of these are big manufacturers of these papers. We have traders who have been engaging in the illegal activity who have been arrested and charged. We have made arrests in Mombasa, Nakuru, and Nyeri. We are all over,” said Ms Kamunge.

“There is no going back. This is an issue of enforcement until there is behaviour change.”

The watchdog talked tough as a manufacturers’ lobby distanced itself from the illicit sale of the plastic bags.

“On our end, KAM members have been 100 per cent compliant,” said Samuel Matonda, the sector manager at the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM).

“It is worth noting, however, that not all manufacturers in the country are KAM members. The DG (director-general)Nema has reinforced the Nema taskforce tasked with apprehending any fraudulent manufacturer and KAM fully supports these efforts.”

Mr Matonda said 1,000 manufacturers had so far been cleared by Nema to produce plastic bags for primary packaging, adding that 2,900 manufacturers had applied for licences.

“For any member companies whose clearance is yet to be issued, KAM and Nema teams are working jointly to resolve the hitches for them,” said Mr Matonda.

Nema clarified last year that it will only allow the manufacture, importation and use of plastic bags for primary industrial packaging and garbage collection.

Primary packaging is seen at the point-of-sale and is meant to contain and protect the product, mainly consumables like food, drinks and pharmaceuticals.

Nema maintained last Monday that the ban is bearing fruits.

“Looking at the aesthetics, the impact is huge. The cities are cleaner There has also been a re-emergence of more jobs as the economy shifts to reusable bags which is friendly to the environment,” said Ms Kamunge.

Environmentalists have praised the ban, saying it will help to minimise pollution.