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Ban on plastic bags starts amid unpreparedness

By Standard Team | August 28th 2017
Fatuma Museveni, a mother of six, displays bags made of plastic bags at Goito dumpsite in Nakuru during an interview. She said the ban will greatly affect her family as they depend on collecting and selling plastic bags to recycling companies. [Joseph Kipsang, Standard]

The ban on plastic bags, which takes effect today, has caught most traders off-guard despite a six-month notice by the Government.

A spot check by The Standard showed that most small-scale traders in Nairobi’s Muthurwa market had not bought alternative packaging materials for their goods.

Ms Hannah Wangare, a fruits and cereals vendor at the market, said she was yet to get pocket-friendly wrapping materials.

“Customers will just have to come prepared. Packaging of cereals will, however, not be a big issue because we have the brown khaki bags but then again if someone is buying more than five kilogrammes how will they be able carry the product?” posed Wangare.

She added that the brown bags will also pose a challenge when it rains because they easily soak in water hence ruining the contents in the bag.

While calling for pocket friendly and reasonable alternative, Wangare urged the Government to crack the whip on manufacturers and distributors rather than lay blame on end users.

Supermarkets were also racing against time to clear their current stocks.

Customers were being given too many paper bags despite the quantity of goods bought.

One customer at a leading chain of supermarkets joked that it was the first time each of his products was being packed separately.

The Government has maintained its stand on the ban through Gazette notice number 2356 made on February 28, 2017 by Environment Cabinet Secretary Judi Wakhungu, despite opposition from manufacturers.

The High Court last week also ruled against a case filed by two plastic bags importers and declined to suspend the ban, saying the need to conserve the environment overrides commercial interests.

The notice banned the use, manufacture and importation of all plastic bags used for commercial and household packaging to be effected on August 28, 2017.

Anyone, including consumers, flouting the ban will face between one and two years jail term or a fine of between Sh2 million and Sh4 million.

According to National Environment Management Authority (Nema), the papers contribute 9 per cent of total waste and create over 90 per cent of the environmental degradation.

Across the country, several towns have a recorded a rush for alternative shopping bags as the ban  kicks off.

In Nakuru, residents and business people visited supermarkets to buy environmental-friendly bags to replace the plastics carriers.

A spot check by The Standard, however, showed that there was no supply of the bags despite the high demand in the supermarkets.

In Gilanis Supermarket, customers struggled to get a share of the limited bags that ran out a few minutes after being displayed.

“We do not have enough bags to cater for the high demand. We have had orders and we are unable to meet them because the bags are limited. We provided them on the basis of first-come-first served,” said a source who requested anonymity.

Business persons who visited the supermarket opted to get other packaging materials for their customers.

Mary Oduor, who cooks mandazis in Wakulima market, said she is forced to pack the food in brown papers.

“I am now forced to pack the mandazis in brown envelops which are expensive and unavailable at the moment,” said Oduor.

At Choppies Supermarket, a 1kg of the brown envelopes are sold at Sh287 from the previous Sh127.

In Woolmatt Supermarket, posters written, ‘bring your own bag or buy a woolmatt bag’ are stuck on walls.

However, there were no stocks of the Woolmatt-branded biodegradable bags as indicated by one of the workers in the supermarket.

The situation was the same at Tuskys Supermarket where goods were packed in carton boxes.

In the supermarket, smaller products were wrapped in newspapers due to lack of enough packaging material.

Monicah Mwangi, who owns an electronic shop in Kenyatta Avenue, told The Standard that she has lacked packaging material for her customers in the last three days due to poor supply.

“The person who used to sell us the plastic bags says there are no bags in the market. The ones he brings are very expensive and we are forced to buy them at between Sh10 and Sh25 a piece,” she said.

In Eldoret town, a group of traders led by Sava Herbert are pondering  their next move after 15 years of selling customised ‘California’ mattresses made from nylon gunny bags.

According to Mr Sava, demand for mattresses made from nylon material that is stuffed in gunny bags and knit has been high in the region.

But all that is set to change.

“The upcoming ban is a shock and a worry to us. We have raised our families from this venture but the law that will be taking effect this soon means that we are jobless and we will have to find something else to do,” he said.

Herbert and his team conduct their business at Riverside area in Eldoret and earn Sh150 from every mattress.

“We are now staring at closing shop and going back to our villages because the law simply means that our business is illegal. The Sh2 million fine is something no one would dare risk,” he said.

Eldoret Jua Kali association chairperson James Kibisu called on the government to reconsider the move to effect the ban will render thousands of Kenyans jobless.

A survey around supermarkets in Eldoret revealed that polythene has been replaced by khaki bags that are sold to clients at between Sh25 and Sh50.

Alex Kipkurui, who operates a butchery in Langas, said he has embraced the old methods to package meat.

“I am fine with the move. Fifteen years ago we were not using nylon papers to package meat but papers which I think are more hygienic.

Nylon bags make meat develop a bad smell. Those selling milk will be affected, maybe,” said Mr Kipkurui.

John Kidogo, Kaptagat Forest Station Manager supports the  ban saying they have already found an alternative for packaging seedlings.

“We have embraced wooden boxes measuring 60 by 60 centimetres and a height of 15 centimetres where we are planting about 200 seedlings at once. After purchase or during planting we slice the soil around the seedlings and plant them. The boxes are reusable, nylon bags had become expensive,” said Kidogo.

He however echoed sentiments by some seedlings sellers that it will be difficult to package single seedlings for sale and that new methods should be improvised.

Julius Mirii, a law student at Catholic University, lauded the move to ban polythene bags. However, he observed that the fines ranging between Sh2 million and Sh4 million are exorbitant.

“Such fines should be applied to large-scale users like manufacturers but should be toned down on some individuals. Public sensitisation is important to help individuals become responsible in conserving the environment rather than focusing on harsh penalties,” he said.

Uasin Gishu county Environment executive Mary Njogu said they are ready to implement the law.

In Mombasa, some of the businesses had already placed notices advising their customers to carry their shopping bags.

Some businessmen have also started capitalising on the ban with light bags already being sold in the streets.

Businesswoman Janet Wamaiga, who runs hotels, said she welcomed the new law as it aims to conserve the environment.

“I think the idea is good. In the past we were using the khaki papers that were disposable. With the new law, we shall also help clean the environment that has been chocked by polythenes everywhere,” said Ms Wamaiga.

Small-scale business operators in Kakamega have expressed their unpreparedness for the ban on plastic papers.

Speaking to The Standard, they said they had not been given an alternative.

Lucy Wanjiru, who has been in the butchery business since 1992, said manufacturers ought to have made the alternative papers available before the ban is effected.

“As we speak, I have not seen those recommended papers in Kakamega. We heavily rely on papers and the government in association with the manufacturers ought to have supplied the alternative in advance,” said Ms Wanjiru.

She said that the khaki papers being considered will not be suitable as sometimes the meat contains small traces of water which will tear the papers before reaching the intended destination.

[Report by Lonah Kibet, Sarah Otieno, Michael Ollinga, Silah Koskei, Joakim Bwana and Jack Murima]

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