Kenya battles plastics threat as UN unveils reduction plan

Benjamin Von Wong, a visual artist who designed the Art Installation showing plastic pollution at UNEP, Gigiri, with his  nephew at a landfill. [Courtesy, Von Wong]

Kenya grabbed headlines in 2017 when it banned single-use plastic bags. This was celebrated as one of the sternest in the world.

The move was preceded by the country’s decision to sign the Clean Seas Initiative, making it one of the first African nations to commit to limiting plastic in its waterways.

Currently, the success rate of the ban is recorded at approximately 80 per cent in the fight against plastic pollution, according to National Environment Management Authority.

However, plastic pollution remains one of the biggest threats to environment. Stakeholders want a speed up in ending plastic pollution while implementing existing laws and policies that govern plastic pollution. This is amid concerns that the country lacks the infrastructure to manage biodegradable and nondegradable wastes.

According to the latest report by the UN Environment Programme (Unep) Global plastic pollution could be slashed by 80 percent by 2040. The agency stated the changes needed are major, but are also practical and affordable.

The first step is to eliminate unnecessary plastics, such as excessive packaging, the report said. The next steps are to increase the reuse of plastics, such as refillable bottles, boost recycling and replace plastics with greener alternatives.

Such a shift, driven by government policies and changes in the plastic industry, would mean plastic pollution would drop to about 40m tons in 2040, rather than 227m tons if no action is taken.

The changes would bring benefits worth trillions of dollars between now and 2040, the report revealed, by reducing the damage caused by plastics to health, the climate and the environment.

The report indicated that people consume microplastics via food and water, as well as breathing them in, and the particles have been found in people’s blood and breast milk.

In March 2022, 193 countries agreed to end plastic pollution, with negotiations on a legally binding agreement by 2024 now underway, hosted by Unep. The second round of negotiations starts on 29 May.

“The way we produce, use and dispose of plastics is polluting ecosystems, creating risks for human health and destabilising the climate,” said Inger Andersen, UNEP’s executive director. “This report lays out a roadmap to dramatically reduce these risks through adopting a circular approach that keeps plastics out of ecosystems, out of our bodies and in the economy.

“Crucially, the report demonstrates that the transformation would provide economic and social wins. Governments and the private sector would save money and hundreds of thousands of new jobs would be created,” she said.

The report estimated that the increased reuse of plastics could reduce 30 percent of plastic pollution by 2040, with measures including deposit-return schemes for containers. 

Andersen said the report was intended to inform the countries negotiating a global plastic treaty of the options available. She said she was optimistic that a global deal could be reached in 2024.

“There will still be a need for plastic,” she said. “But we need to rethink where we’re using it and how we’re using it so that much more of it is reused and recycled] and a lot less is merely single-use.”