You risk four-year jail term or Sh4m fine if caught with a plastic bag

Environment Principal Secretary Charles Sunkuli(left) flanked by The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) Director General Geoffrey Wakhungu displays biodegradable bags that will replace plastic bags after the ban. The government says the Monday plastic bags ban deadline will not change despite protests from manufacturers who are staring at massive losses. Photo by WILLIS AWANDU

Barring a court order, next week you will risk a four-year jail term or Sh4 million fine if caught with a plastic bag.

The Government Wednesday declared it would enforce the ban on plastic bags from Tuesday and asked Kenyans to embrace alternatives that include bags made from sisal, paper, cloth, papyrus, and gunny bags.

The general penalty spelt out under the Environment Manufacturers and Co-ordination Act for those found culpable is a jail term no shorter than one year or a fine of not less than Sh2 million.

But the law provides for a maximum fine of Sh4 million or a four-year jail term.

The ban applies to the use, manufacture, and importation of plastics.

The crackdown will initially target manufacturers of the proscribed items. But shoppers, travellers, and those who have relied on plastic bags for other uses, including women who use them to cover their hair when it rains, are forewarned as well.

And the law does not spare even those coming into the country. Travellers with duty-free bags shall be required to leave them at the entry points.

The only exemption are duty-free shops at airports, which are considered to be outside Kenya's territory for travellers who have checked in for departure.

Yesterday, the Government insisted there will be no extension on the commencement date for the ban. The Nairobi Environment Court yesterday said it will decide whether to temporarily suspend the ban, as requested by the Kenya Association of Manufactures (KAM), or allow the law to take effect.

The permanent secretary for Environment, Charles Sunkuli, said the ministry will work closely with law enforcement to ensure that the manufacture of banned products is limited.

Sunkuli, who called on KAM to comply, said manufacturers who fail to comply with the regulations will be targeted.

"Our enforcement will work on two levels. We will ensure that we drastically minimise the source of plastics at the manufacturing level as well as do actual policing with the help of county governments," he said.

Sunkuli added that the county government will also help dispose of the plastic bags that are already in circulation.

He added that the ministry will also work closely with over 40 producers of alternative bags.

"We will offer incentives to rural women who are using locally available materials and we have also proposed tax incentives for such materials," he said.

KAM has expressed concerns over job losses, saying there are over 30 plastic bag manufacturers with a combined capital investment worth over Sh5.8 billion. These firms, KAM says, employ up to 9,000 people, both directly and indirectly.

Sunkuli, however, said the figures are inaccurate and assured that people will have alternatives and that more jobs will be created through production of non-plastic bags.

"Those are not accurate figures and on the flipside the alternatives are far more than plastics, which means that this will actually create more jobs," he said.

Mama mboga

He assured the public that they will showcase alternatives which will be exhibited at the KICC today, including those to be used by mama mboga to package vegetables.

He said Kenya has received support from the East Africa Community through the Legislative Assembly, which has also banned plastics.

"It is an incredible first step that the country and the EAC has taken some leadership on this issue and decided to really start the process of creating a local solution for the problem," he said.

Supermarkets, which give out 100 million plastic shopping bags every month, have stopped branding their bags.

A spot check by The Standard revealed that major retail outlets such as Tuskys and Nakumatt supermarkets are issuing plain plastic bags after clearing their branded stock.

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