ND042 - Kenya implements world's toughest plastic bag ban
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UPDATE – Kenya implements world’s toughest plastic bag ban

'Law initially aimed at manufacturers and suppliers'

Travelers are warned: don’t bring or carry plastic bags in Kenya. The production, selling or even use of plastic bags is prohibited in the East African country. Violators will risk imprisonment of up to four years or fines of $40,000 (or €33,000), as the world’s toughest law to reduce plastic pollution went into effect on 28th of August.

Plastic bags cause many environmental problems

Plastic bags are a cause of many environmental concerns. Many bags drift into the ocean, where they suffocate seabirds, strangle turtles and fill the stomachs of dolphins and whales with waste until they die of starvation. “If we continue like this, by 2050, we will have more plastic in the ocean than fish,” said Habib El-Habr to Reuters. She is an expert on marine litter working with the UN environment program in Kenya.

According to El-Habr, plastic bags take up to 1,000 years to break down. And through fish and other animals, it can also enter the human food chain. In Nairobi’s slaughterhouses, some cows destined for human consumption had 20 plastic bags removed from their stomachs.

Judy Wakhungu, Kenya’s environment minister, said the enforcement of the law would initially be aimed at manufacturers and suppliers of plastic bags, but the law allows police to even go after anyone carrying a plastic bag.

A spot check by Associated Press showed that many people and shops in Nairobi, are still packaging goods in plastic bags. But most big Kenyan supermarket chains like France’s Carrefour and Nakumatt have already started offering customers cloth bags as alternatives. Vehicles were being stopped at road blocks for plastic bag checks.

In other African countries like Cameroon, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, Mauritania and Malawi, similar bans have been implemented. But not everyone supports the harsh punishments.

Activist Boniface Mwangi has appealed to the Kenyan government to reduce the penalties. His concern is that they are disproportionately 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 28th August or you will go to jail," he said in a Facebook posting.

Update: Kenya Airways advises all guests traveling into Kenya to leave duty free plastic bags at the entry points. The carrier will provide a woven bag on board, so that the plastic one can be disposed of.

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