You risk Sh4m fine, 4 years in jail for buying food, water in plastics

Food being sold in a supermarket. Manufacturers will be required to re-think their packaging materials. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Nairobians could soon be slapped with a Sh4 million fine or face a four-year jail term or both, if the proposed Bill in the County Assembly banning food and food products wrapped in plastic bags, is passed.

Nairobi City County Plastic Control (Amendment) Bill, 2021, now in the public participation stage after its First Reading, seeks to ban the use of all plastic materials in the packaging of food and food products. It also prescribes punitive measures for both sellers and consumers.

This means you will no longer enjoy drinking water in plastic bottles, supermarket foods or take it away in plastic containers. Bread in its current wrapping or some brands of milk packaged in plastic containers will also be affected.

Consequently, manufacturers will be required to re-think their packaging materials and adopt new methods if the Bill is passed into law.

“Any person who engages in the packaging of food and food products in any plastic material commits an offence and is liable upon conviction for a term of not less than one year and not more than four years or a fine of Sh4 million and not less than Sh2 million or both,” states the Bill in part.

In 2016, Kenya was recognised globally after successfully banning the use of plastic bags.

However, some eateries and supermarkets still package food in plastic containers, such as bread, cookies and cakes. The latest move by Dandora Area Member of the County Assembly (MCA) Charles Thuo, is likely to stir controversy on whether it will be legit or enforceable.

The Bill seeks to amend the Principal Act, which is the Plastics Control Act of 2016, which had banned the manufacture and use of plastic carry bags but had provided for the partial prohibition of packaging food products in plastic carry bags and containers.

The Bill proposes further provides that no person shall manufacture, import, export use or offer for sale plastic carrier bags and plastic bags unless authorised by the National Environmental Management Authority (Nema).

The Bill is also pushing for a framework to ensure enforcement of the ban. He cites health and environmental concerns as being the drive behind the Bill. “We aim to do away with the use of plastic materials in the packaging of consumables. Reason being that they have adverse effects on the environment if poorly disposed of and not recycled. Noteworthy is the fact that some but not all products are not safe when packaged using plastics,” he said.

Some eateries and supermarkets still package food in plastic containers. [Courtesy]

He noted that some institutions such as hotels have begun to comply by serving water in glass bottles. The second-term MCA also defended the steep fines imposed on violators of the ban, saying they were meant to deter repeat offenders.

“We do not want a situation where someone can gauge the profits vis-à-vis the fines and they just decide to pay the fine. We are considering introducing bigger fines for repeat offenders,” added Thuo.

The Bill will soon be introduced at the Assembly for the Second Reading; taking into account views of the public as captured by the report by the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources.

The MCAs will either adopt the report in its entirety or retain it in its original form and move amendments at the Committee stage.

The Bill comes hot on the heels of another ban on national parks, beaches and forests announced by President Uhuru Kenyatta last year.

The ban which took effect on July 5, 2020, applied to all plastic carrier bags and flat bags used for commercial and household packaging.

It effectively prohibited the entry of plastic plates, plastic cups, plastic spoons and forks as well as water bottle bottles in protected spaces.

In 2017, President Uhuru Kenyatta attended a meeting in Vancouver, Canada at the invitation of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in recognition of the milestones made to conserve the environment.