DRC, Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi Big Letdown in Regional Plastic Pollution
Kenya and Rwanda have made quite some laudable strides in curbing plastic pollution with the anti-plastic bag legislation, which have outlawed the importation and use of single-use plastic bags in the respective countries.
Despite the strict plastic bans legislation adopted by Kenya and Rwanda, plastic bags continue to infiltrate the respective markets mostly from being smuggled from neighbouring countries, where plastics are not outlawed.
In Kenya, plastics bags, which are mostly used by hawkers and in the markets, are smuggled from Uganda while in Rwanda it’s from the neighbouring Congo.
Kenyan and Rwanda are the only countries in the East African Community to ban the complete use and importation of single-use plastic bags, which has left DRC, Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi as hotspots for smuggling illicit bags.
Uganda particularly, which borders Kenya’s Busia town, has been quite the hotspot for smuggling plastics bags in Kenya. Despite the country showing a political will to institute a ban on plastic bags, the government is yet to effect a ban and single-use plastics are still widely used.
I walked into a supermarket in Kampala and I was shocked to see the good old black polythene carrier bags that used to be common in packaging products in Kenya. I had not seen the bags for the last three or so years since Kenya banned the use of single plastics and for a moment I was able to appreciate Kenya’s plastic bags ban, which has been lauded as one of the toughest in the world.
The penalty of being found in possession of plastic bags in Kenya attracts a fine of between Sh2 million and Sh4 million or a jail term of one to two years, or both and although there is still infiltration of the small clear plastic bags that are mostly used by Mama Mbogas for packaging vegetables, you will never find anyone carrying a plastic carrier bag in the country, it’s now in the past and they are long forgotten.
Uganda has recently announced plans to embark on a 10-year environmental restoration programme that will include a ban on polythene bags and a range of plastics and the rest of the countries within the East African Community should make haste and adopt a regional ban on single-use plastic bags so that they can help consolidate Kenya and Rwanda’s efforts to curb plastic pollution.
Plastic pollution continues to be a major threat to our environment with current estimates by the United Nations Environment showing about eight million metric tons of plastic are thrown into the ocean each year and warn that plastic waste dumped into the ocean could increase tenfold by 2020 outnumbering fish in the ocean by 2050.
Our oceans provide the largest natural carbon sink for greenhouse gases. When plastics end up in our oceans, they choke a host of marine animals and habitats and can take hundreds of years to break down. As the plastics break down, sunlight and heat cause the plastic to release powerful greenhouse gases, which contribute to climate change.