Why you shouldn’t expect free packaging from supermarkets

A trader sells reusable bags on Moi Avenue,
A trader sells reusable bags on Moi Avenue, Nairobi, after the ban on plastic bags took effect. Consumers have been feeling the pinch of expensive packaging, with the new bags costing between Sh8 and Sh100. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NMG 

When going out to shop, don’t expect the retailer or mama mboga to wrap the goods for you, no matter their value or quantity. This is because there is no legal provision that compels them to do so.

Therefore, consumers will continue to bear the cost of goods packaging. As the chief executive of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, Ms Phyllis Wakiaga, told the Business Daily, retail outlets such as supermarkets and makers of products are not compelled by law to wrap products for customers.

“There is no such law,” said Ms Wakiaga.

She said that only the Consumer Protection Act could construe a clause on service, but it does not directly dictate packing of goods for customers.

This is despite the Consumers Federation of Kenya (Cofek) calling on supermarkets to bear the cost of packaging. Cofek secretary-general Stephen Mutoro last week urged retailers to scrap the fees slapped on alternative carrier bags following the recent ban on plastics.

He argued that consumers have been feeling the pinch of expensive packaging, with the new bags costing between Sh8 and Sh100.

Mr Mutoro said retailers should factor in the cost of carrier bags in the overall pricing of fast moving or all goods.

“With many consumers having exhausted their budgets, the goods either have to be packed in unhealthy cartons or paid-for carrier bags, which will see food items, detergents and even chemicals mixed up. Such items need to be packed separately to avoid contamination,” said Mr Mutoro.

But even as manufactures say there is no law compelling supermarkets to wrap goods for customers, some retailers support the idea of free carrier bags.

“Despite the cost, Uchumi is open to the idea of free carrier bags so as to reduce the inconvenience to our loyal customers. Our procurement team is on constant lookout for the best way to get more affordable carrier bags. As we proceed on this path, we should explore ways of mitigating the cost as well as alternative packaging,” said Uchumi Supermarket acting chief executive Mohamed Ahmed.

Mr Ahmed said Cofek can lobby for the return of the previous bio-degradable bags.

“We should bear in mind that the foremost objective of the carrier bags ban was conservation of the environment,” he said.

The ban on plastic carrier bags came into force on August 28, this year. Anyone found selling, manufacturing or carrying them could face fines of up to Sh4 million or prison sentences of up to four years.

But the manufacture and sale of these illegal wrappers has gone underground. A tour of many estates, especially those hawking groceries and sugarcane, shows that these traders openly pack the pieces in thin plastic bags.

This proves that manufacturing of plastic bags is still going on, mainly in Nairobi’s Industrial Area, four months after the ban was effected.

Earlier this month, the National Environment Management Authority said that two manufacturers had been arrested.

Kenya joined more than 40 countries — including China, France, Rwanda, and Italy — that have banned, partly banned or taxed single use plastic bags.
A few exceptions were made, but a person or firm requires special authorisation to access the permitted bags.

Kenyans have since been urged to embrace alternatives, which include bags made from sisal, paper, cloth and papyrus.

Prior to the ban, data shows that up to 86,000 plastic bags were being handed out in Nairobi every day, while 24 million were used in the country every month. Half of them were thrown away carelessly due to poor garbage disposal systems and lack of sorting.

Experts say plastic bags take more than 100 years to decompose, posing adverse effects to the environment, including piling up in landfills, blocking drainages, polluting rivers and destroying marine life.

In 2016, Lake Nakuru National Park, for instance, collected 24 tonnes of plastic from the water body and its range lands, which are grazing fields for herbivores.