KENYA- Plastic carrier bags have re-emerged in most grocery markets, making a mockery of last year’s ban and imposing additional cost on consumers who are forced to pay more for the product.
Smugglers at Kenya’s border points have been enjoying an unlikely black market boom trading in the illegal plastic bags.
Groceries markets in residential areas and big towns are the hotspots for the smuggled plastic bags that have in the past couple of months grown rapidly, neutralizing Kenya’s efforts to outlaw use of the non-biodegradable bags.
Kenya announced last March that it would ban manufacture, importation and use of all plastic bags in commercial and household packaging and put the ban into effect on August 28, 2017.
The landmark move – the third attempt in a decade – saw it join the community of nations that are leading the war against use of plastics.
Anyone found selling, manufacturing or carrying them could face fines of up to Sh4 million or prison sentences of up to four years.
The environmental watchdog in an interview admitted that the influx of the smuggled plastic bags is a grave concern, but added that the agency is stepping up its crackdown to deal with the underground market.
“Compliance levels are over 80 per cent.
We still have some challenges in terms of the black market. We have information that some of the plastic bags are basically coming from neighbouring countries through the border points,” the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) legal services director Irene Kamunge said in an interview.
Ms Kamunge did not specify the source countries of the smuggled plastic bags.
She, however, warned of an impending crackdown along the border points to curb the illegal imports.
“We will intensify our surveillance. In terms of re-emergence I don’t think its re-emerging. I don’t want to divulge where we are headed. We will pounce on them,” she said.
Ms Kamunge said local markets and green grocers have been identified as the hotspots for the illegal sale of the smuggled plastic bags.
The watchdog talked tough as a manufacturers’ lobby distanced itself from the illicit sale of the plastic bags.
“On our end, KAM members have been 100 per cent compliant,” said Samuel Matonda, the sector manager at the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM).
Mr Matonda said 1,000 manufacturers had so far been cleared by NEMA to produce plastic bags for primary packaging, adding that 2,900 manufacturers had applied for licences.
NEMA clarified last year that it will only allow the manufacture, importation and use of plastic bags for primary industrial packaging and garbage collection.