Plastic bags are an environmental disaster

Plastic bags are an environment disaster; they do not naturally decompose, they choke marine life, they clog drains, they fill our landfills ,they are habitats of mosquitoes and burning them produces toxic carbon emissions .The more they are produced and  not recycled the more our environment gets choked , question is , until when?

It is necessary therefore to provide a way forward on their production and disposal. A week ago, Nairobi faced one of the worst floods possibly in its history after drains were clogged, roads rendered impassable, people died, and others got injured while property worth millions was destroyed. Most people are blaming solid waste for the floods; they believe plastic paper bags blocked drainage systems where runoff passes. There is a undisputable correlation between solid waste disposal especially plastic bags and the flooding.

Plastic bags especially those issued in supermarkets are a major source of solid waste in Kenya. Some of them are so flimsy they cannot be recycled or even reused. Environmentalists say all plastics bags below 60 microns are non-recyclable but the shocking thing is that we have some as thick as 7 microns, so thin such that handling them for purposes of recycling is impossible. Once they leave the supermarkets and food groceries, they are thrown by the road side while majority find their way into landfills.

Landfills in Kenya are open and lack management policies; in fact our dumpsites are places where we dump all kind of trash whether biodegradable like banana peels or non-biodegradable like plastic bags, all are dumped without any regard for solid waste management regulations. That underscores the very need to have proper waste disposal and management bodies, those that can implement laws .I do not see National Environment Management Authority as competent enough to deal with the scourge unless it is overhauled and new officers get on board. Those in offices seem overwhelmed or have no idea on what to do.

In 2007 and 2011, the government had proposed a ban on plastic bags with a thickness of 60 microns and below, the implementation failed after business men and politicians thwarted the good proposals which may have saved our country from immense pollution. Last year the county government of Nairobi had planned to debate a bill that could have led to a ban on the same plastics but all that went under the bridge and we don’t even have a clue as to what happened. Did the county government of Nairobi go to bed with the greedy business men whose sole interest is to amass more wealth as they tear down our environment with cheap plastic bags?

Another question I would want answered is the responsibility of our supermarkets who issue these bags, what is their role in the environment. I thought since they are the biggest suppliers of these bags, they need too to track where they go, not that they do not know but they should be at the fore front teaching their customers on ethics in proper plastic bags management and disposal while trying as much as possible to use high quality plastics bags that are easy to recycle and reuse. Just like how carbon trading goes so should be with plastic bags manufacturers and supermarkets.

Rwanda did it, the country is a darling to many for it is a beautiful clean town, Uganda is doing it, what is Kenya waiting for?

Writer is an environmental activist and blogger In Nakuru