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Why NEMA should break cycle of hypocrisy, negligence and enforce plastic bag ban

Health Opinion
 A greengrocer packs vegetables in a polythene paper bag for a customer in South B area. [David Gichuru, Standard]

Kenya has made notable progress in environmental conservation in recent years, exemplified by initiatives such as the plastic bag ban, signaling our dedication to a cleaner, greener future.

However, amidst these commendable efforts, the National Environment Management Authority’s open neglect to enforce its regulations is evidence of a stark hypocrisy that persists.

The 2017 plastic bag prohibition was celebrated as a pivotal step in addressing solid waste challenges in our nation. As a concerned miller, I am dismayed by NEMA's inaction in addressing violations of the plastic bag policy.

Despite the ban, some millers continue to blatantly flout the law, posing threats to our ecosystem and public health. What's more troubling is the suspected collusion of certain NEMA officials, turning a blind eye to violations for personal gain. Reports of corruption within NEMA raise serious doubts about the agency's commitment to its environmental protection mandate.

The recent warnings issued by NEMA in November 2023 to manufacturers and importers regarding illegal plastic bag usage seem hollow in light of ongoing non-compliance. NEMA must break this cycle of hypocrisy and negligence. Mere warnings are insufficient; decisive action is required to hold violators accountable. The law is clear, and those who violate it must face consequences.

The repercussions of NEMA's negligence are severe and widespread. While we endeavor to adhere to sustainability principles, our competitors exploit regulatory loopholes to gain unfair advantages, flooding the market with cheap, plastic-packaged products.

Adding insult to injury is the stark pricing disparity between plastic-packaged and compliant products. Despite the higher costs of non-plastic packaging, some millers persist in using plastic bags, driven solely by profit motives.

Meanwhile, those of us committed to sustainable practices find ourselves marginalized, struggling to compete in a market where profit often outweighs principle.

It's an injustice that while honest millers suffer, law-breakers thrive with impunity. Reports of substandard products flooding supermarket shelves go unchecked, as NEMA ignores the plight of law-abiding citizens. The scales of accountability are tipped in favor of the unscrupulous few, undermining fairness and justice.

Even supermarkets, presumed bastions of corporate responsibility, turn a blind eye to product origins, complicit in this environmental travesty.

Despite warnings, millers persist in using plastic bags, emboldened by lax enforcement and oversight.

It's time for NEMA to enforce the law impartially, ensuring those responsible for environmental harm face consequences. The livelihoods of honest businesses, community well-being, and the integrity of our environmental laws are at stake.

The plastic bag ban was not merely a policy; it represented hope for a cleaner, greener future.

NEMA, entrusted with safeguarding our environment, must fulfill its duty. Its failure to enforce directives, especially regarding the plastic bag ban, is disheartening.

NEMA must end this cycle of hypocrisy and negligence. Honest, law-abiding millers' livelihoods are jeopardized, while those flouting the law thrive.

NEMA must rigorously enforce the plastic bag ban, hold violators accountable, and ensure supermarkets refuse non-compliant products.

The law unequivocally opposes plastic bag usage. Section 145 of the Environmental Management and Coordination Act (EMCA), 1999, outlines penalties for non-compliance, holding both entities and individuals accountable.

Despite warnings, some institutions continue to operate with impunity, endangering the environment. I urge NEMA to shed its cloak of hypocrisy and fulfill its mandate to protect our environment and public health.

The time for action is now.

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