Nyeri artist cashes in on plastic bag ban with banana bark carriers

Artist John Mathenge displays some of his products made from locally available materials in Nyeri on Monday. photo | joseph kanyi
Artist John Mathenge displays some of his products made from locally available materials in Nyeri on Monday. photo | joseph kanyi 

As a section of Kenyans and manufacturers lament over the recent ban on the use of plastic bags, John Mathenge is cashing in on improvised carriers made from dry banana bark.

The 37-year-old from Nyeri County is currently eking out a living by making and selling the bags to retail shoppers, a business whose only capital was his creativity.

The bags are small and are designed to carry few items weighing up to three kilogrammes.

“I sell each bag at Sh250 or Sh300. I just thought of giving people alternatives after plastic bags were prohibited by the government. In my search for a solution, I decided to go the traditional way,” says Mr Mathenge.

In August, the government, through the National Environment Management Authority made it illegal to use plastic bags, forcing Kenyans to seek eco-friendly carriers. Kenyans found manufacturing or using certain types of plastic bags risk a fine of Sh2 million or a year in jail.

Since this law came into force, Mr Mathenge has been selling more than 50 bags per month to residents by hawking them around towns and at public events such as political rallies that were plenty during the electioneering period. He produces the carrier bags at his rental house.

“Making one bag takes around one hour and one day to be ready for use,” says Mr Mathenge.

He told the Business Daily that he makes the bags using environmental-friendly materials.

“Sometimes I collect barks of the eucalyptus tree popularly known as blue gum and heat them to produce the gum. I then store it and use it to seam the banana barks,” he says.

To make the bag neat and firm he seals the inside part using a piece of cloth. On a good day he sells about four or five bags while on a bad day he sells about two, he says.

“The money I make daily is enough for my family needs and to pay monthly bills such as rent, water and electricity charges,” he adds.

The father-of-three says Nyeri and Laikipia residents have progressively embraced his creativity by buying the items and enabling him to earn a living. He collects the dry barks from his family farm in his rural village in Nyeri County.

“I am happy that people embraced my art and realised the menace caused by the plastic waste to the environment needed to be curbed,” he says.

Mr Mathenge also makes key holders using pieces of waste plywood as well as seedling bags using the dried banana barks that he sells to tree vendors in the region.

“The best thing with the seedling bags is that they will automatically decay and be part of the manure soil nutrient and feed the tree unlike the hard nylon papers which were initially been used by seedling vendors,” he says.

The soft-spoken entrepreneur also uses the dried banana barks and small pieces of plywood to decorate his drawings, pictures and his homemade toys “to add value”.

The artist is currently marketing his products in Nakuru, Nyahururu and Murang’a towns as well as training five youths in Nyeri on making of the eco-friendly products.