Plastic bags ban changing environment

A heap of plastic bags behind go-downs in Industrial Area, Nairobi before the ban came into effect. [File, Standard]

Africa is the cradle of humanity, as the discovery of Lucy in the Afar region of Ethiopia proved scientifically in 1974. As the physical location of the beginning of the journey of human existence, Africa has a great responsibility for its future. And climate change might arguably be the biggest challenge for the future of humankind on planet earth. It is thus only fitting that Africa is leading the world on banning of single-use plastic bags. With just a little bit of early planning – they can become truly redundant. On the other hand, excessive use of plastic bags causes many problems.

First, all plastic is produced using a considerable amount of energy from crude oil – and thus it releases CO2 when burned, on top of toxic pollution. According to the UN, this increases the risk of heart disease, worsens asthma and causes damage to the nervous system.

Hence, the very beginning of the plastic bag’s “circle of life” is responsible for a double pollution of the atmosphere. The concentration of CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere has more than doubled in the last 200 years, after having remained at a stable level for more than 10.000 years (!). It is commonly accepted that carbon dioxide is one of the leading causes of today’s climate change and the greenhouse-effect.

But plastic bags pollute more than just the atmosphere. They also pollute the environment. I can still remember plastic bags everywhere, caught up in branches of trees and half-buried in farms. They clogged drainage systems and as a result, floods were more common and puddles appeared on the side of every street, breeding grounds for malaria-infected mosquitoes. 

However, things are changing. Some 34 African countries are already committed to the fight against single-use plastic bags. Rwanda is aiming to become the world’s first plastic-free country, and Tanzania just announced that it will not allow foreigners with single-use plastic bags in their luggage. This move comes after Tanzania outlawed the manufacturing and distribution of plastic bags in 2017. More and more countries understand that it is impossible to care for your citizens, and attract tourism and investment, if there are ugly trash piles overwhelming waste management services in your cities.

Here in Kenya, we can be proud that high fines imposed on those manufacturing, importing, distributing or using plastic bags. Since the government passed the law outlawing single-use plastic bags in 2017, our landscape has become visibly cleaner, and the benefits to citizens and environment are many. The link between them is clear, but it goes deeper than it appears at first glance.

Our beautiful nature and national parks are key national assets. Consider the critical tourism sector.

The government understands the much that tourism can inject into an economy. Yet without proper care, the potential of the industry would remain untapped - a true crime against our future generation. The disappearance of plastic bags from our lives and our environment might take some time to get used to, but is the only way to attract tourists. A bold move by the government appreciates that sometimes, painful measures must be taken for the benefit of the greater good.

Just how great is that good? Well, in 2018 alone, the tourism industry was worth a whopping Sh517 billion to our economy. The benefits are overwhelming: jobs to take care of families, influx of strong currencies, and increase in tax revenue to be spent on education, health and security, and many more.

To attain the status of a mid-income country by 2030, Kenya needs to attract more tourists to visit the highlights of our country. Of course, having a clean country is not enough, but it is the foundation. Quality infrastructure and safe streets are also needed. Both are priorities to President Kenyatta, whose vision for a better future of our country won’t be easily blurred.

A strong economy is the base for a success of the Big Four. Tourism is a main factor of our economy.

Let us all join and do our part for a brighter future – it might be as easy as being friendly to a muzungu on the street, to refrain from littering, and yes – to stop using plastic bags!

- The writer is a banker