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Kenya, Africa should support global treaty on plastic waste

OPINION
By Amos Wemanya | September 13th 2021

Owing to the nature of global supply and plastic value chains, the challenge of plastic pollution is global in scope. [Courtesy]

Kenya marked four years since the ban on single-use plastic carrier bags last month. It is important that as the world enters into discussions around a global plastic treaty, we review three important takeaways from our own country’s efforts. 

First, before the 2017 ban, the plastic industry distributed approximately 100 million plastic shopping bags every month to supermarkets, which contributed immensely to pollution on land and water sources. The plastic bags could be seen everywhere hanging on trees, in the air, in landfills, in our farms and in our drainage systems. 

However, since the ban came into effect, these bags have disappeared. That notwithstanding, there is still a problem with some materials such as bread packaging that still uses single-use bags that are harmful. In June 2020, the President gave a directive to ban all single-use plastics in protected areas. This indicates that the government has been progressive in tackling the plastics challenge. There is need for the president’s directive banning the use of all single-use plastics in protected areas to be expanded to all other parts of the country. 

The ban set in motion the much-needed phase-out of single-use plastics in Kenya. It’s time for businesses to face reality and stop the production of single-use plastics that pose a big challenge to our environment, health, livelihoods and wellbeing. Second, in last year's Kenya-US Free Trade Agreement negotiations, there was a proposal by the American Chemistry Council to include plastics. The American Chemistry Council was advising US representatives in the negotiations to use the US-Kenya trade deal to expand the plastic’s industry footprint across Africa. 

However, it is evident that Kenya has made strides in tackling the challenges presented by plastic pollution on the environment and people’s health. This is demonstrated by the ban on single-use plastic carrier bags that came into effect in 2017 and the president’s directive on the use of single-use plastics in protected areas in June last year. In total, 34 African countries have come up with bans barring production and the use of single-use plastic bags and materials. Any agreement that would allow the importation of plastics in Kenya could turn our communities into dumpsites and diminish what the country has achieved. 

Owing to the nature of global supply and plastic value chains, the challenge of plastic pollution is global in scope. Looking at the attempts by the American Chemistry Council to sneak in the US-Kenya Free Trade Agreement, a clause that would allow Kenya to be used as an entry point for plastic dumping in Africa despite the ban on plastics in Kenya shows the need for a global approach to the challenges of plastic pollution.

Evidently, it is time for Kenya and other African countries to support a framework for international cooperation that will enable coordinated actions to address the challenge of plastic pollution. As we celebrate four years of single-use plastic carrier bags' ban, Kenya and other African governments need to urgently pronounce its support for the global plastic treaty. 

Mr. Wemanya is a Greenpeace Africa Campaigner 

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