Since the ban on plastic carrier bags came into effect in August 2017, we have witnessed tremendous progress, including a change in individual perception towards plastic materials. We have seen a rise in innovative items meant to replace plastic bags that were essentially single-use.
The question is, are these replacements sustainable and environmentally friendly?
One of the notable items that have flooded the market are the mesh bags that are used by 'mama mboga' and supermarkets to package vegetables, fruits, and other groceries.
Mesh bags are plastic and single-use. They easily tear on first use; hence, there is no chance they can be reused. Often, mesh bags end up in dustbins and eventually in landfills, forests, or marine ecosystems.
Given their nature, mesh bags are hazardous to livestock and wildlife, including birds, if they ingest them. Birds may be unable to fly when the mesh ties their wings. Ingested plastics hinder proper digestion and may remain in an animal's body for long and could be fatal. Many plastics take hundreds of years to degrade.
We have seen cases of sea turtles, whales, and sharks entangled in fishing nets. Mesh nets are no different. Once they find their way into water bodies, aquatic life is in jeopardy.
In addition to the mesh bags, the clear small handleless carrier bags are back in full circulation, and are mainly used to package chopped vegetables. They are used openly, indicating laxity in the enforcement of the plastic carrier bag ban policy and regulations.
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Where do these small clear plastic bags come from? Are some companies producing them illegally? Do people understand what was banned and what was not?
Truth is, the small clear bags are banned unless they are used for packaging at the point of manufacture. From the very beginning, the citizens did not get a clear understanding of the particulars of the policy and the regulations.
Continuous and active enforcement of the plastic ban regulations is lacking, allowing people to flout the law. If the policy was enforced indiscriminately, we would not be in this mess. Reactive implementation is not a solution; it should be progressive.
The ban alone is not enough; we need to harmonise county and national laws on waste management, climate change, and conservation.
The extended producer responsibility regulations 2021 should be a strong foundation in addressing plastic waste in general. The problem should be addressed from the source -- adopting a circular economy in waste management to reduce plastic waste generated, promote innovation, create new opportunities and encourage individual consumer responsibility.
We need to re-evaluate our market to establish the source of the banned bags. If they are locally produced, then address the problem immediately, and if smuggled from neighbouring countries, fix the border porosity.
Fundamentally, educating the citizens on plastic waste, existing regulations and policies on plastic carrier bags and other single-use items will reduce demand for plastics.
-Ms Kibii is an environmental scientist and research consultant. [email protected]