By: Surjit Singh Flora
Plastics are proving to be extremely dangerous to the environment. There have been demands, therefore, to limit its use and ban various types of plastics.
The government has issued strict instructions from time to time — including banning single-use plastics, such as water bottles and straws, from the national parks, beaches, forests and other protected areas — but there has been a lack of rigour in enforcing them.
The Covid-19 pandemic has made us to witness the consequences of destroying the earth; we eliminate the systems that support human life. Plastic bottles, bottle caps, food wrappers, bags, straws and lids are all recklessly thrown away. Kenya is fighting the curse of plastic pollution, which suffocates sea turtles, cattle and birds and destroys the landscape.
But plastic usage continues unabated. That simply means the attitude of the concerned departments towards their production, sale and use is extremely irresponsible and negligent.
Due to our small and big negligence and shortcomings of waste management systems, discarded polythene and other plastic waste clogs the drains, drainage and sewerage system. This waste is now obstructing the flow of rivers, which plays a significant role in creating flood-like conditions in places with a little more rainfall.
Like many other countries, Kenya has struggled with plastic waste — which is scattered along the coast of the Indian Ocean and on lakes and rivers — for a long time. In Mombasa, with two million its inhabitants, 3.7 kg of plastic per person daily permeates into water bodies every year.
Plastics were the cause of the catastrophic floods in Bangladesh in 1988 and 1998 as they accumulated in drains or gutters, causing drains to clog up.
The use of plastic bags in Ireland has been taxed at 90 per cent, dramatically reducing it. In Australia, the use of the bags has dropped by 90 per cent following a government appeal. Rwanda banned the manufacture, sale and use of plastic bags while France implemented a ban on plastics in 2010.
Non-recyclable plastics are banned in New York City. China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Canada, Thailand, Italy and other countries have imposed various restrictions on importing plastic waste. China, the largest importer of plastic waste, also recently banned importing 24 categories of solid waste.
Similar stringent measures need to be taken in Kenya in a roundabout way to eradicate plastics. But due to shortcomings in these rules, importation of plastic waste is still allowed and, taking advantage of this loophole, empty plastic bottles are imported in the form of acceptable waste.
Worryingly, about half of the plastic waste is either found in rivers through drains or lying untreated on a piece of land, polluting the earth and air. The government ought to get a little harder on the citizens as regards plastics. It should also raise awareness of reducing plastic use through appropriate and effective messaging against dumping.