The only thing Kenya has been known to come first in is athletics, with corruption being the next thing that it almost tops. But this August NEMA broke the records by declaring a four million fine or four years in jail on anyone found to use the plastic bag. However, Kenya is not the first country to impose the ban as more than forty countries around the world have already done so, including our neighbors Rwanda. Those who have set foot in Rwanda will tell you that it is one of the cleanest places they have ever been to. Other countries that have taken the move either partially or fully include Italy, France and China.
Before we critique or heap praise on the plastic ban, let us first look at the motivation behind it. Plastic bags take between 500 and 1,000 years to be completely degraded. Most of them end up in the oceans, suffocate sea birds, strangle turtles, fill up stomachs of larger sea inhabitants such as dolphins and whales thus starving them and eventually enter the food chain through fish. Cows destined for slaughter have been found to have as much as 20 bags from their stomachs. Experts from the UN state that if the trend continues, Kenya will have more paper bags than fish in her marine waters. So, really, there was a huge and plausible reason behind the ban. But then why did it take us by so much surprise and cause more hullabaloo than any local TV show on our screens.
Kenyans are still catching up with the information regarding the ban, and apart from the official communication from NEMA, social media is being currently used to give updates, as well as, jokes and memes. In the latest update, signed by the Director General of NEMA Geoffrey Wahungu, the general public can drop off their stored paper bags for collection. The drop off points are Uchumi, Nakumatt and Tuskys supermarkets. Another update from NEMA that was doing rounds in watsapp groups on Monday stated that barred police from inspecting and harassing civilians with paper bags. This second update came from NEMA head of inspection, Wachira Bore, with his number on it. It was easy to confirm the updates through a quick search on the internet and from the official NEMA social media accounts. The plastic bag ban also led to a lot of jokes and memes on the matter. Some of the most popular include chapatti being stapled like a report form and soup being carried in a sponge. A popular meme shows a horde of guys running for their lives after a paper bag is blown in their direction.
I guess the biggest controversy with the ban on paper bags in the country lies not with the huge punishment that it carries, but with lack of alternatives for Kenyans. Even though NEMA states that the companies involved in production of paper bags should invest in alternative and more environmental friendly bags, I wonder whether the time given was enough. I wonder how many people will lose their daily bread as a result of some of the companies closing down and I also wonder how many trees will be cut down to fill the gap as paper is being used as the main alternative. The law was announced in March this year, and enforced on Monday 28th August. Five months would have been enough time for everyone to have found an alternative to the plastic bag, but of course we are Kenyans, and nothing is taken seriously except the last minute rush. Like Asbel Kiprop who insists on going for gold in the last lap, we have been caught in interesting times, but the memes and jokes keep us going.