Plastic bags ban wipes out thousands of jobs

Thousands of Kenyans working in the plastic bag industry were yesterday headed to a future without jobs after a dozen companies shut down their plants as the ban on polythene carrier bags came into effect.

Kenya in March imposed a ban on the manufacture, use and importation of plastic bags for commercial and household packaging effective August 28.

The ban — the third attempt in a decade — has seen Kenya join other environmentally conscious nations in curbing the use of plastics.

Two plastic bag makers said they had wound up operations and relieved nearly 1,000 workers of their duties.

“We have shut down, I have sent home 450 workers,” said Dip Shah, the director of Nairobi-based manufacturer of plastic bags PIL.

“We are all stuck; we don’t know what to do.”

Das Shah, the proprietor of Laneed, which makes plastic bags for export, said the company had shut down its operations, a move he said affected all its workers.

“We have sent home 400 workers,” said Mr Shah. “I am devastated. I don’t know what to do now after building this company up for 25 years,” he said.

The company’s plant is located on Nairobi’s Mombasa Road.

Mr Shah said it cost Sh1.14 billion to put up the factory, which had a monthly turnover of $1.5 million (about Sh154 million).

“I have paid all the workers today and relived them [of their duties],” he said.
Safepack, a company that employs 700 workers and produces packaging materials for consumer goods firms, said it had suspended its operations for lack of poly bags.

“It’s a real concern for us,” said Safepack’s managing director, Tushar Shar, while acknowledging that companies involved in production of primary packaging material such as his were exempted from the plastic bag ban.

60,000 jobs

The Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM), which has been opposed to the ban, claimed that more firms had closed their operations and that the shutdowns would cause 60,000 job losses.

Environment secretary Judi Wakhungu had earlier dismissed the 60,000 job losses figure by as an “exaggeration.”

“We are talking of 60,000 direct jobs...then there are indirect jobs the traders and the people they employ, transporters and others along the value chain,” said KAM sector manager Samuel Matonda in a statement.

“There is no job guarantee for the people who have been sent home today.”

Judi Wakhungu, Environment Secretary (left) and KAM chief executive Phyllis Wakiaga. PHOTOS | FILE | NMG

Judi Wakhungu, Environment Secretary (left) and KAM chief executive Phyllis Wakiaga. PHOTOS | FILE | NMG

KAM named the 10 manufacturers it said had by yesterday ceased operations as Kensalt, Silpack industries, King plastics, General plastics, Polythene Industries, Poliflex Industries, Uni plastics, Hi-plast Ltd, Packaging masters and Comet plastics.

The National Environment Management Authority (Nema) meanwhile heightened its crackdown by sending out its inspectors to confirm whether manufacturers were complying with the plastic bag ban, signalling the State agency is pulling all stops to implement the ban.

Nema has warned those violating the ban on plastic bags face a fine of between Sh2 million and Sh4 million, or a jail term of between one and two years, or both.

Rush to comply

Yesterday, large supermarkets and other retail outlets as well as individual shoppers rushed to comply with the plastic bag ban.

A spot check by the Business Daily showed retail chains such as Tuskys, Nakumatt, Uchumi #ticker:UCHM and Quickmart were no longer packaging goods in plastic bags.

They instead provided non-plastic bag carriers for packaging to shoppers at a fee.

Many other traders encouraged their customers to carry their own shopping bags, with several shoppers appearing to heed the message.

Street vendors at Nakuru's Wakulima market sell reusable eco-friendly carrier bags. PHOTO | AYUB MUIYURO | NMG

Street vendors at Nakuru's Wakulima market sell reusable eco-friendly carrier bags. PHOTO | AYUB MUIYURO | NMG

Some of the alternative product customers opted for traditional baskets (kiondos), woven bags, and papyrus and palm baskets that retailed at below Sh80.

“We shall provide customers with eco-reusable bags. (The) price (will be) Sh5 for small bags and Sh10 for large bags,” said Tuskys in a text message to shoppers.

The retailer, however, encouraged shoppers to carry their own packaging material to the supermarkets to minimise costs.

“We also encourage you to carry kiondos, baskets and any other eco-reusable bags. In addition, we shall provide packing cartons on request. Feel free to return with the eco-reusable bags during your next shopping,” said Tuskys.

Uchumi chief executive Julius Kipngetich said the retailer was complying with the ban and had not encountered hiccups in packaging goods for shoppers.

“It’s going on well; we are providing eco-friendly materials at a fee,” said Mr Kipngetich.

Save on costs

A supermarket official, who sought anonymity, said the ban had helped retailers eliminate massive overheads arising from use of paper bags.

“The costs of paper bags constitute two per cent of a retailer’s cost base. When you look at a retailer like Nakumatt whose revenues run into over Sh60 billion annually, this is huge savings in cost to the retailers,” said the official.

Retail Trade Association of Kenya (Retrak) chief executive officer Wambui Mbarire said Retrak continues to support the ban but warned that there will be implementation challenges.

“Nema must continue with public awareness and ensure no harassment by the implementers,” said Ms Mbarire.

“Members shall continue to work at providing cheap solutions at the till, but encourage the public to bring their own bags as we work to entrench a culture of reuse and recycle.”

Ms Mbarire urged Nema to work with industry to urgently come up with an alternative for the flat bag which she said is synonymous with the “kadogo” economy.

Innovative miraa sellers in Kirinyaga packaged their products in paper envelopes.

Some 100 million plastic bags are handed out every year in Kenya by supermarkets alone, according to the UN Environmental Programme.

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

Manufacturers lost a legal bid last week to oppose the ban’s implementation.

While backing the ban, Prof Wakhungu, the Environment secretary, has argued that besides protecting the environment, the ban will “spur growth of homegrown industries” dealing in alternative packaging material, including traditional baskets (kiondos) made from sisal.

A young lady carrying a kiondo crosses Harambee Avenue onto Kimathi Street. Photo | Francis Nderitu | NMG

A young lady carrying a kiondo crosses Harambee Avenue onto Kimathi Street. Photo | Francis Nderitu | NMG