Plastics are an eye sore in every place you go, and it gets worse in the slums where the dump sites are located.
Kenya has enacted a law that was supposed to reduce the production of plastic bags and hopefully reduce their influx in the environment. But what has this done, more plastics are available than before and the dumpsites are getting bigger and bigger.
Policy reforms can never and should never be a top down approach. When the government made it expensive to produce the plastics the companies simply transferred this cost to consumers who willingly pay because they think they always need the plastics.
The mindset of the local people has been made to believe that when they go shopping they must always carry plastic bags and this is where the problem is and should be addressed. We need strong education about our environment in schools we teach about courses that don’t have any direct meaning to the students yet we assume and overlook the opportunity to incorporate this important part into the curricula.
Plastics cause a lot of problems and, most of all, some are toxic. They are not biodegradable and pollute the environment. Clogging of waterways, habitat for pests and parasites, choking drainage, are some of the harmful effects of these plastics. We need to ensure that we continue promoting the use of “kikapu” which is an ideal way of reducing plastics.
It is high time that a comprehensive policy to address the plastic waste problem in Kenya is implemented. Tanzania, has recently enacted laws that have banned the use of certain plastics, and has become the second African country, after Rwanda, to ban the use of plastics so as to curb environmental damage. The manufacturers were given 6 months to phase out the harmful polythene (which takes up 1000 years to biodegrade) and switch to recyclable materials.
There is some hope as Kenya through UNEP, UNDP,NEMA and KAM(Kenya Association of Manufacturers) has launched a pilot project in Nairobi and if successful move it to other cities an towns.
The fight against plastics nee a strong political backing and the intervention of other environmental bodies. Kenya can borrow examples from other African countries like Rwanda, Tanzania and South Africa. Kenya has all the ingredients to achieve this being the host of UNEP, the proud owner of a Nobel peace prize laureate and a proactive community.
Supermarkets should also lead the campaign against plastic bags and they should adopt the same messages that are being used for cigarettes, “Plastic Kills”, this might help people realize just how costly buying the plastic bags will be for them.
If the citizens know about the harmful effects of plastics then the government should set up laws on there production and control how they are made.
This cannot be achieved overnight but we have got to start somewhere and this time start it in the right way.
Mr. Odhiambo is an environmentalist studying Masters in Environmental Sanitation at University of Gent, Belgium