NEMA now bans use of plastic seedling potting bags

Seedlings at a nursery on a farm in Mt Elgon. [Martin Ndiema, Standard]

The National Environmental Management Authority (Nema) has now banned the use of plastic seedling potting bags in line with the earlier ban on plastic carrier bags.

In a move that has met condemnation and praise in equal measures, the environmental authority has directed tree nursery growers to use alternative biodegradable bags.

The tree nursery growers have warned that this could have effects on seedlings while others have termed the move as long overdue as plastic bags have a major impact on the environment.

This comes at a time when the recent ban on logging was suspended by the High Court, with stakeholders warning that the country would fail to meet its 10 per cent forest cover by 2030.

In the latest move, NEMA Director-General Mamo Boru Mamo, noted that since the ban on the importation and use of plastic bags, the authority had been extending use of the potting bags.

In a directive, Mamo said that they had been waiting for research by the Kenya Forest Research Institute (KEMFRI) on the efficiency of alternative planting bags.

“Following the research, NEMA directs that use of plastic seedling potting bags ceases and transition to compostable options be adopted, with immediate effect,” he said.

Edward Mutitu inspects seedlings at Nanyuki Forest Station, December 2022. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Mamo said that the research had proven that the country had the capability and availability of biodegradable bags as an alternative to plastic bags.

“You are advised to liaise with the Kenya Bureau of Standards for information on local and international standards of the biodegradable potting bags,” he said.

However, members of the tree nursery growers noted that they were not involved in the directive that would affect their operations.

According to John Kuria from Aberdare in Kinangop, the directive by NEMA to use biodegradable bags was not viable and would see the number of seedlings in the nursery reduced.

He said that many of the growers had tried the biodegradable bags noting that this was impractical due to their short shelf life.

“Some of these biodegrade bags tear into pieces whenever they come into contact with water, and this will reduce the number of tree nurseries,” he said.

This was echoed by another grower Jane Nduta who said that the directive would lead to an acute shortage of seedlings in the coming days.

“The growers do not have these biodegrade bags, and many will have to close business leading to a shortage of seedlings and affecting the ongoing planting of trees,” she said.