Disquiet as some millers flout plastic packaging order

Beans packaged in plastic. [iStockphoto]

Despite the National Environment Management Authority’s (Nema) warnings issued in November last year regarding the illegal use of secondary packaging in plastic bags, the continued non-compliance by businesses has put the country’s regulatory watchdog in the spotlight.

While striving to adhere to principles of sustainability, ethical millers find themselves at a disadvantage, The Standard has learned.

A spot-check shows competitors exploit regulatory loopholes, flooding the market with products packaged in cheap plastics.

This has led to a disparity in pricing between products packaged in plastic and those complying with the ban.

A spot-check shows certain millers prioritise profit over environmental responsibility, opting for cheaper plastic packaging despite the higher costs of sustainable alternatives.

This unfairly penalises ethical producers, pushing them aside in a market where price outweighs principles, players said.

During a December 2023 meeting between Nema and the Cereal Millers Association (CMA), both parties reached an agreement to gradually deplete their existing plastic stockpiles and discontinue the utilisation of plastic for packaging purposes.

Nema had instructed all millers to transition to alternatives by March.

During a meeting with the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) and CMA, millers were informed that the compliance deadline had passed and were urged to adopt non-plastic packaging. On February 22 this year, Nema sent a letter to millers via KAM Chief Executive Anthony Mwangi urging them to transition to alternatives, noting that the time for dialogue and guidance had already passed.

“Plastic balers, especially those used by the flour milling sectors are strictly prohibited. Millers are thus required to fully revert to the use of the traditional Kraft paper (which is already available in the market). This takes effect with immediate effect noting the sufficient transition time since the directive of 16th November 2023,” reads the letter to KAM by Nema Director General Mamo Boru Mamo.

The letter was also copied to the Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change, and Forestry as well as the Managing Director of the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs).

Thuo Mathenge, the founder of Bradegate Food Processing Company, underscored the crucial importance of maintaining principles of fairness and justice across all sectors of the economy.

He stressed the importance of consistent enforcement of regulations, especially in the context of environmental conservation concerning industrialisation.

“While I fully recognise the significance of environmental conservation, it’s equally vital to ensure that regulations are uniformly enforced across all players in the industry,“ Dr Mathenge said.

He highlighted the collective responsibility of the business community to prioritise regulatory adherence and actively contribute to environmental preservation endeavours.

“We must prioritise adherence to regulations and actively contribute to environmental protection efforts. Government agencies must take swift and firm measures to address any infractions and uphold standards across the industry,” said Dr Mathenge.

In November last year, President William Ruto speaking during the official launch of the third session of the Inter-Governmental Negotiating Committee on Ending Plastic Pollution in Nairobi emphasised that “addressing plastic pollution is pivotal to advancing efforts against climate change.”

He urged producers and innovators to reconsider plastic products and packaging, aligning them with the principles of reuse, refill, and repair.

Affirming Kenya’s dedication to ending plastic pollution, Ruto emphasised the need for investors, multinational corporations, and technology firms to redirect their strategic investments towards reducing their plastic waste impact.

“We call upon producers and innovators to rethink plastic products and packaging to reflect the principles of reuse, refill, repair, and repurpose by exploring alternative options such as non-plastic substitutes, alternative plastics, and plastic products that do not have negative environmental, health, and social impacts,” said President Ruto. A miller who sought anonymity for fear of being victimised voiced his exasperation over Nema’s shortcomings in the enforcement of plastic bags.

The miller pointed out that those who flout Nema directives often sell their products at inflated prices, reaping substantial profits at the expense of compliant millers.

“We are doing our best to comply with environmental regulations, investing in eco-friendly packaging despite the higher costs. Yet, our competitors continue to use plastic, undercutting us in the market,” said the miller.

He noted that as a miller committed to eco-friendly practices, it’s frustrating to compete in a market where unethical competitors skirt regulations with impunity adding that Nema’s failure to act not only harms the environment but also stifles innovation and fair competition. Nema had not responded to our request for comment by the time of going to press.

A recent supermarket investigation revealed continued plastic packaging use by certain companies, perpetuating economic disparities within the milling industry. Millers now want Nema to crack down on violators, ensuring a level playing field for all.

This suggests that the choice to use plastic packaging is driven by profit rather than any arguments about food costs or duty structures.

Another miller who sought anonymity echoed similar sentiments noting that this glaring price difference raises critical questions about why such practices are tolerated.

She noted that the reality is clear: packaging with plastic allows for higher profit margins at the expense of ethical competitors who are following the directive set and are coping with the situation.

“It’s disheartening to see our hard work in adopting sustainable practices go unrewarded. Nema needs to crack down on those flouting the law and level the playing field for all,” she said.

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