Plastic bags debate hots up as assembly seeks total ban

Plastic wastes harm the environment. PHOTO | BENSON MOMANYI
Plastic wastes harm the environment. PHOTO | BENSON MOMANYI  

Regional legislators on Thursday passed a Bill that will ban polythene shopping bags in the East African Community (EAC), adding fuel to a raging local debate on a similar national law.

If signed by the heads of state in the economic bloc, the Polythene Materials Control Bill 2016 will see all plastic shopping bags banned from the region within a period of 18 months.

“The use, sale, manufacturing and importation of polythene shopping bags is banned in the partner states,” the Bill reads.

Exemptions have been made for materials used in medical stores, industrial packaging, and agriculture. Punishment for those caught breaking the law will be left at the discretion of member states.

Incentives will also be provided, including financing from the East African Development Bank (EADB), for companies that manufacture biodegradable packaging.

Impose levies

East African Legislative Assembly MPs rejected concerns by manufacturers and proposals from the East African Business Council that the Community ought to impose levies on plastic bags and encourage recycling rather than pursuing an outright ban.

In February, Environment and Natural Resources Cabinet Secretary Judi Wakhungu announced a ban on plastic bags, effective August this year.

Fines of up to Sh4 million were to be imposed on rule breakers.

Manufacturers have protested, saying that such a move could lead to the loss of at least 60,000 direct jobs.

And although MPs had seemed to initially back the ban, they have since taken a U-turn, demanding its immediate reversal.

Little choice

If presidents from EAC member states adopt the bill as law, Kenya will have little choice, but to implement it, regardless of opposition from members of Parliament.