Using an innocuous plastic bag in Kenya may well be something you come to regret. The East African nation has now imposed what is believed to be the world’s toughest laws for those caught producing, selling, or even using single-use plastic bags, the result of which involves being sent to jail for four years or receiving a fine of up to $40,000.
The country now joins more than 40 others worldwide that have initiated similar laws prohibiting the use of plastic bags either partly or entirely, or introducing a tax on them, including China, the United Kingdom, and Rwanda. The ubiquity of the objects, which cause a whole manner of issues as they are thrown into land fill, the streets, and more frequently than not the oceans, has meant that many nations are re-thinking their attitude towards the bags.
Clearly, the main issue of plastic bags is their single-use intention. Taking energy and oil to produce, they are only used once before often being thrown away, after which they may take between 500 and 1,000 years to degrade. In the oceans, they break down into micro plastics, which are then thought to be consumed by birds, turtles, and fish. If humans eat these fish, then we too can end up consuming the plastics.
The issue of ocean plastic is so great that one report has estimated that by 2050, plastics in the ocean will outweigh all the fish.
But it isn’t only in these marine environments that there is a problem. Cattle in Kenya often roam the streets and countryside eating whatever they come across, including trash. In Nairobi, some cows that have been sent to the slaughterhouse have been killed only for the workers to find up to 20 plastic bags stuck in their stomachs, which then have to be scooped from the carcass. While this may have been a rare occurrence 10 years ago, now it is a daily thing.
The law in Kenya has been noted for how harsh it now is, despite Kenya's eco-tourism unique selling point. It has taken 10 years and three attempts to get the law passed by government, and while technically, the police can now charge anyone found using a plastic bag, in reality, officials are more likely to focus primarily on manufacturers and suppliers, to tackle the problem at the root.