Visitors to Kenya’s national parks, forests, beaches and conservation areas who carry single-use plastics will now be arrested and prosecuted.
The country’s ban on the use of single-use plastics in the above areas took effect on June 5 when Kenya joined the rest of the world to mark the World Environment Day.
The ban comes nearly three years after Kenya’s ground-breaking nationwide ban on single-use plastic bags in 2017.
The latest ban prohibits visitors from carrying plastic water bottles, disposable plates and cups, cutlery and straws into protected areas, with the aim of curbing the growing plastic pollution.
“This ban is yet another first in addressing the plastic pollution catastrophe facing Kenya and the world, and we hope that it catalyses similar policies and actions from the East African community,” Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala said.
Offenders are liable to a fine of between Sh2 million to Sh3 million or a jail term of up to three years.
Balala was speaking on Friday when he inaugurated the Fliflopi Dhow in Lamu. “The Flipflopi - the world’s first sailing boat (“dhow”) made entirely from plastic waste collected from towns and beaches in Kenya, is currently anchored at the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) headquarters, one of the first places that will see the effects from the implementation of this ban,” he said.
The government, he said, is proud to have been a part of the Flipflopi project.
“This world’s first Made in Kenya dhow entirely assembled from recycled plastic by our own craftsmen is testimony to our innovative spirit and a reminder to all that our heritage comes first. Kenya again is taking the lead on global environmental issues,” Balala said.
Decay and deterioration
The ban came into effect on the World Environment Day whose theme was biodiversity and comes at a time of global plea to protect nature from catastrophic decay and deterioration that has been caused by human action.
“Single-use plastics and the resulting pollution is one of the biggest catastrophes of our generation and a major threat to biodiversity, which has escalated exponentially over the last few decades, killing our freshwater and marine ecosystems and now negatively impacts the health of communities,” Balala said.
He said it is estimated there may now be around five trillion macro and microplastic pieces floating in the ocean, making up 60-90 per cent of marine debris.
Flipflopi Project Leader Dipesh Pabari said Kenyans have witnessed the catastrophic effect single-use plastics have on the ecosystems and communities.
“We encourage the East African community to take even bolder action in future,” Pabari said.
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Data from United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) shows plastic pollution is one of the most serious threats to the planet’s health. Single-use plastics are polluting the majority of ecosystems from rainforests to the world’s deepest ocean trench. When consumed by fish and livestock, plastic waste ends up in the human food chain.
By 2050, the UN estimates that there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean, unless governments and the private sector promote more resource-efficient design, production, use and sound management of plastics throughout their life cycle.
Juliette Biao, Africa region director at UNEP commended Kenya for taking a bold step in fighting pollution.
The ban came into effect a year after President Uhuru Kenyatta’s directive on last year’s World Environment Day. “By banning single-use plastics in its parks and protected areas, Kenya joins the rest of the world in setting the agenda for the sustainable management of waste in conformity with this year’s World Environment Day theme,” Biao said.
World Environment Day is the most renowned day for environmental action. Since 1974, it has been celebrated every year on June 5 with calls to engage governments, businesses, celebrities and citizens to focus their efforts on a pressing environmental issue.
-The writer is a 2019/20 Bertha Fellow