Packaging material shortage looms in plastics ban

Environment secretary Judi Wakhungu. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Environment secretary Judi Wakhungu. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

An acute shortage of packaging materials was Tuesday looming large over retailers after producers of plastic bags suspended operations, pending clarity on the ban on plastic bags that came into force on Monday.

The Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) said that while the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) had allowed the manufacture, importation and use of plastic bags for primary industrial packaging and garbage collection, producers of the bags had been forced to suspend operations because of the “complexities in obtaining clearance,” from Nema.

Nema had last week asked all manufacturers, importers and users of the plastic bags for primary industrial packaging to obtain clearance letters allowing them to continue in the business.

KAM claimed on Tuesday that the process of getting the clearance letters had been marred by “complexities,” forcing some producers to close pending clarity.

“KAM has received formal notification from plastic bag manufacturers of industrial and non-industrial packaging that with effect from 28th August 2017, they have temporarily suspended their  manufacturing and delivery operations following the recent ban on plastics,” said KAM.

“The reason for the suspension is to enable them get clarifications in order to continue their operations.”

KAM said the closures had been made pending clear direction from the environmental watchdog.

It cited an unclear road map on how a take-back scheme, which Nema had cited as a prerequisite to getting the approvals as one such complexity that needed clarity.

It also said consumer goods companies and the industrial packaging were still in the dark on the labelling of the packaging material and its possible effect on their brands.

But in a quick rejoinder, Environment secretary Judi Wakhungu dismissed the claims, terming them an attempt to derail implementation of the ban.

Prof Wakhungu ruled out complexities in the process, saying Nema had engaged the manufacturers on the ban’s implementation.

She said “many Kenyans” had welcomed the ban.

“Most Kenyans are complying with the ban,” said Prof Wakhungu. “They are improvising in order to ensure we save our environment.”

Prof Wakhungu cited support from the Council of Governors and residents associations in the ban’s implementation. But KAM noted that the lack of clarity had affected production of some of the most important household products, including salt and maize flour.

It said distribution and supply of fertiliser is also likely to be affected because the flat plastic liners used in their packaging are affected by the ban.

“In addition to this, Kenya stands to lose export revenue because there is currently uncertainty about the manufacture of plastic flat bags used for packaging of flowers, fish, tea and EPZ exports,” it claimed.

A spot check by the Business Daily on the second day of the ban revealed that traders had been forced to improvise to serve their customers. Fast food chains serving snacks around towns had been the hardest hit.

Stores including chemists, boutiques and shoe outlets also sought alternative packaging material. Some shoppers who opted not to buy paper bags on sale by retailers chose to carry their items by hand.

Producers of alternative packaging material, however, reported a boom in business.

“We have increased our capacity based on a spike in new orders,” said Chintan Vora, CEO of Thika-based Bags and Balers.

This came as more companies that produce plastic bags took a hit from the ban.

King Plastic one of the country’s largest plastic bags producers said it had shut operations affecting 600 workers.

On Tuesday Nema issued a notice to Kenyans to take their stock of plastic bags to specific drop off points where they will be collected by the agency and recycled.

While signaling it would implement the ban to the letter, Nema urged manufacturers of plastic bags to invest in production of alternative bags to cater to fresh demand.

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 had said earlier the ban applies to carrier bags and flat bags constructed with handles and with or without gussets.