28 Jun 2017 Story Sustainable Development Goals

Kenyans prepare for nationwide ban on plastic bags

The countdown is on until Kenya’s national ban on plastic bags takes effect, with retailers across the country instructed to be ready to comply with the new law when it goes into force on 28 August.

“We have served notice to manufacturers to declare their stock and are working with the Kenya Revenue Authority, the Kenya Bureau of Standards and county governments to effect the ban,” said Geoffrey Wahungu, Director-General of Kenya’s National Environment Management Authority.

Wahungu was addressing a stakeholders’ forum hosted by UN Environment, in partnership with the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, on 21 June. The event brought together government officials, retailers, manufacturers, importers and trade unions as well as national- and county-level government officials. Representatives of several countries that have implemented similar bans were also present.

“We support the efforts of the Kenyan Government and people in their efforts to reduce the negative impact of plastics on their environment, on their health and on their economy,” UN Environment Deputy Executive Director Ibrahim Thiaw told the forum.

Thiaw added that at abattoirs in Western Kenya, veterinarians are finding an average of 2.5 plastic bags as well as other plastic waste inside the stomachs of cows.



Great Blue Heron tries to swallow fish in plastic bag, Florida, USA Photo credit: Andrea Westmoreland

The forum provided a platform for the Government and stakeholders to discuss preparations for the ban, what to do with stocks of plastic bags, and alternatives to single-use plastic bags, such as cloth, sisal or hyacinth bags. Participants exchanged views on how to implement the ban, including the possible use of incentives; partners who had been through a similar experience shared their lessons learned.

Cabinet Secretary Judi Wakhungu, the Kenyan Minister of Environment, said the Government needed to do more outreach and better educate the public, including schoolchildren, on the importance of the ban.

Students speak up

The ban will bring big changes for manufacturers and retailers, but universities and other institutions will also be affected.

At an event for World Environment Day on 5 June, UN Environment, in partnership with the Kenyan National Youth Green Growth Secretariat, brought together Kenyan university students to discuss the ban and talk about green initiatives at their universities. More than 100 students participated in the event, which took place at the United States International University in Nairobi.

The students debated waste management pilot projects, zero-tolerance litter policies, and student awareness-raising initiatives, among other green campus policies. They discussed the plastic bag ban and agreed that the measure was crucial to Kenya’s future, both in terms of keeping the country clean and avoiding the negative health impacts of burning plastic.

“The No-Plastic initiative was well applauded by all, and alternatives were proposed such as straw bags or paper bags. Someone went as far as suggesting we should look back to our roots and utilize animal skin bags, which links people back to their traditions while utilizing an environmentally friendly alternative,” said Rida Raheel, vice-chair of the USIU student body.

The event opened potential areas of collaboration between UN Environment and the Kenya Green University Network, which was launched in February 2015. Network members commit to improved environmental practices on campus, the integration of sustainable development into teaching, and enhanced community engagement.

UN Environment’s Environmental Education and Training Unit supported, coordinated and facilitated the event. Among other things, the Unit aims to make university students aware of how ecosystems and biodiversity can support sustainable development.

“I am grateful for UN Environment,” said Ouma Lavender, a student at the University of Nairobi. “We need more opportunities and support like this because the young generation is the future and we need to be included in discussions and implementation because we are the ones who will be affected by these decisions.”

As part of the event the students also “connected with nature” by planting tree seedlings at the US International University’s Green Park. See slideshow.

For further information: Monika.Macdevette[at]unep.org

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