Plastic bag users face jail
Publish Date: Jun 13, 2009
Newvision Archive
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Ban begins in January 2010

By Gerald Tenywa

PEOPLE caught using plastic bags (buveera) when the ban takes effect in January could go to jail for up to three years, pay a fine of up to sh3million or both.

Christine Akello, an environmental lawyer working with the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), said the penalties would be provided for in an amendment to the waste management regulations under the National Environment Management Act.

The amendment was made when Government banned the thinner plastic bags and will be revised to include all plastic bags, Akello said.

Polythene bags of less than 30 microns were banned two years ago. However, the implementation was hampered by confusion over which kaveera were below or above 30 microns.

“We have been formulating an amendment to the waste management regulations to deal with contraband plastics,” Akello told Saturday Vision. “The new development in the budget that imposed a total ban means that the amendment will be revised soon.”

She said the fine ranges from sh30,000 to sh3m. Apart from a fine and possible imprisonment, industries and traders found with plastic bags will be forced to meet the cost of destroying them.

Akello added that the waste management regulations emphasise community service as an alternative penalty, which would include removing the plastic bags that are scattered around.

“We encourage districts and municipalities to formulate by-laws on waste, particularly plastic, and implement them,” she said. “They should recommend community service as a penalty in order to get rid of plastics that are already in the environment.”

On imported goods like clothes that are packed in plastic bags, Akello said NEMA would call a stakeholders’ meeting to agree on how to handle them.

She pointed out that in neighbouring Rwanda, which also imposed a ban on polythene, imported goods packed in plastic are unwrapped at entry points.

“We are going to convene a meeting with enforcement agencies and agree how to guide the department of immigration. The good thing is that we have many partners willing to provide a solution to the menace caused by plastics.”

Asked about plastics needed for vital processes, like the damp course in houses, the packing of medicines and flowers, Akello said the new amendment will not ban those.

“That is the category of plastic waste that should be managed. Not carrier bags, which are a nuisance.”

NEMA will work closely together with non-governmental organisations to engage in the mobilisation of resources and engage local communities in removing plastic bags waste.

Akello said there will be public awareness and education programmes to make people understand and appreciate the total ban on plastics.

“We are a democratic country and many issues and questions are likely to come up from the public,” she said. “So it is important to create awareness so that people understand and participate in a meaningful way.”

Dick Lufafa, an environment monitoring officer is concerned about Kenya’s indifference on plastic bags.

“We have seen sense in doing away with the manufacturing of plastic in order to protect the environment but in Kenya they are still producing the dangerous plastics,” he said. “This is going to favour smugglers to deal in illegal plastics.”

Another concern is that Ugandan-based factories producing plastic might migrate to Southern Sudan or western Kenya. Similarly, when Rwanda slammed a total ban on polythene bags, their industries relocated to Uganda.

“There are 17 industries producing plastic in Uganda,” says Lufafa. “There is a risk that they will relocate to neighbouring countries. However, the law enforcement agencies will deal with smugglers of kaveera the same way they have handled contraband of cigarettes and other goods.”

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