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Anyone who gets caught with a plastic bag in Kenya could face a €31,000 fine or four years in prison

The ban came into force today but has sparked a lot of criticism.

File photo of a young girl holding the plastic bottles she has scavenged, as she walks amidst garbage and plastic bags at the garbage dump in the Dandora slum of Nairobi, Kenya.
File photo of a young girl holding the plastic bottles she has scavenged, as she walks amidst garbage and plastic bags at the garbage dump in the Dandora slum of Nairobi, Kenya.
Image: AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File

A BAN ON plastic bags came into force in Kenya today – and those found violating the new regulation could receive maximum fines of $38,000 (€31,720) or a four-year jail term.

The ban applies to the use, manufacture and importation of plastic shopping bags and gives a minimum fine of about $19,000 (€15,860) or up to a year imprisonment, according to the government. Exemptions were made for manufacturers producing plastic bags for industrial use.

A spot check showed many people and shops in the capital city, Nairobi, still packaging goods in plastic bags. But most supermarkets chains had stopped giving out the bags and were selling cloth bags instead.

Vehicles were being stopped at roadblocks for bag checks.

Similar bans have been implemented in other African countries such as Cameroon, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, Mauritania and Malawi.

Kenya Plastic Bag Ban File photo, men and women scavenge for recyclable materials amidst mountains of garbage and plastic bags at the dump in the Dandora slum of Nairobi, Kenya Source: AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File

Activist Boniface Mwangi has appealed to the Kenyan government to reduce the penalties, saying they are overly punitive and will mainly affect poor citizens who cannot afford to bribe their way to freedom.

“So if you’re rich, you can get away with anything, but if you’re poor, don’t use plastic bags from 28 August or you will go to jail,” he said in a Facebook posting.

Mobile toilets

In the slums of Nairobi, plastic bags are not only used to pack food and store clothes, but also as mobile toilets, he said.

“When you rent a house there, it doesn’t come with a toilet and so every time you need to use a toilet, you have to pay,” Mwangi said. “If you’re a family, using the toilet becomes an expensive affair.”

Kenya Plastic Bag Ban A customer packs his foodstuff in a cloth carrier bag in Nairobi, Kenya. Source: Sayyid Abdul Azim

Some 100 million plastic bags are handed out every year in Kenya by supermarkets alone, according to the United Nations Environment Program.

Thin plastic shopping bags litter Nairobi’s streets and contribute to towering piles at dump sites. The Kenyan government says the bags harm the environment, block sewers and don’t decompose.

Some Kenyan manufacturers have said the ban will cost jobs, but Environment Minister Judi Wakhungu last week said more jobs will be created from making bags from environment-friendly materials.

Plastic bags have long been identified as a major cause of environmental damage and health problems, killing birds, fish and other animals that mistake them for food, said the UN environment agency.

The bags also provide breeding grounds for the mosquitoes that carry malaria and dengue fever.

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Associated Press

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