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Kenya Becomes Latest Country to Ban Plastic Bags

2017-09-03

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[00:00.00]
  • Kenya has joined the growing list of countries to ban plastic bags.
  • [00:07.93]
  • A new Kenyan law bars the production, sale and even use of polythene plastic bags.
  • [00:18.19]
  • People caught breaking the law may be fined up to $40,000 or face a four-year jail term.
  • [00:29.04]
  • The cabinet secretary for the environment, Judi Wakhungu, told reporters that plastic bags are affecting Kenya’s food and water supplies.
  • [00:41.11]
  • “It is a toxin that we must get rid of,” she said.
  • [00:46.12]
  • Plastic bags are used in many countries. People often get them when buying products from food stores or other businesses.
  • [00:58.16]
  • But experts argue that polythene bags are bad for the environment and public health.
  • [01:05.93]
  • The bags have been blamed for polluting cities and coastal areas.
  • [01:12.00]
  • They have also been blamed for killing animals who eat them or become trapped in them.
  • [01:19.24]
  • Kenya’s National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) notes that while the bags are thin, they never really break down into small pieces through natural processes.
  • [01:34.09]
  • As a result, it warns, the plastic can remain “in the environment as small or even microscopic particles…forever.”
  • [01:47.18]
  • NEMA officials have been urging retail businesses and manufacturers in Nairobi to obey the new ban.
  • [01:56.69]
  • Geoffrey Wahungu, the director general of NEMA, is supporting a campaign known as the “take-bag” scheme.
  • [02:06.06]
  • He is asking Kenyans to bring their own cloth bags or baskets from home.
  • [02:12.73]
  • “I hope soon we'll start seeing people who are carrying out these recycling materials, or alternative bags, which are eco-friendly. All this is creating much more employment than is being lost,” he told VOA.
  • [02:31.27]
  • Kenya is the latest country to ban polythene plastic bags.
  • [02:37.69]
  • Similar measures are reported to be in effect in at least nine other African countries.
  • [02:46.22]
  • However, of the nine, only Rwanda has been successful in enforcing the ban.
  • [02:55.05]
  • In neighboring Uganda, for example, the move away from plastic has been slow.
  • [03:01.96]
  • Officials banned the production, import and distribution of thicker plastic bags in 2009.
  • [03:11.23]
  • Yet such bags are still in use today in the capital, Kampala.
  • [03:17.53]
  • The Ugandan government wants local manufacturers of polythene bags to support its calls for recycling.
  • [03:26.67]
  • Some Ugandans are hoping to earn a profit through efforts designed to protect the environment.
  • [03:33.65]
  • Two years ago, Sharon Ninsiima started a business for removing plant fiber from banana stems.
  • [03:44.17]
  • The fiber acts like cotton and can be used to make biodegradable paper bags.
  • [03:51.71]
  • “People consider our products expensive, which is true,” she says.
  • [03:57.81]
  • “But our bags are… safer than the polythenes…,” she adds.
  • [04:02.80]
  • “The polythenes are more dangerous and contaminate the environment.”
  • [04:08.76]
  • In Asia, several countries have also joined the movement to ban plastic bags.
  • [04:16.04]
  • Bangladesh became one of the first countries in the area to enforce a ban after bags blocked drainage systems and caused serious flooding.
  • [04:29.99]
  • In preparation for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, China banned thin plastic bags and raised prices for thicker ones.
  • [04:41.62]
  • Some European countries have started to either ban plastic bags completely or force businesses to pay more for using the bags.
  • [04:54.60]
  • In 1994, Denmark became the first country to charge people for using plastic bags.
  • [05:03.03]
  • Ireland approved a similar move in 2002.
  • [05:08.23]
  • In Central America, Costa Rica has said it plans to be the first country to completely remove all single-use plastic bags by 2021.
  • [05:21.25]
  • There also have been efforts to ban plastic bags in parts of the United States.
  • [05:29.13]
  • In 2007, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to ban such bags.
  • [05:37.18]
  • Nine years later, the state government in California banned them across the state.
  • [05:43.95]
  • All county governments in Hawaii have individually banned plastic bags, effectively banning them statewide.
  • [05:53.56]
  • Chicago and other cities, such as Dallas, Texas, and Washington, DC, have similar bans.
  • [06:02.33]
  • However, not everyone feels that banning plastic bags is a wise idea.
  • [06:09.26]
  • In Kenya, two plastic bag importers attempted to overturn the ban in court last week.
  • [06:18.03]
  • But their effort failed.
  • [06:20.39]
  • The National Association of Manufacturers says the ban will cost the country more than 60,000 jobs.
  • [06:30.59]
  • In the United States, groups like the American Progressive Bag Alliance, or APBA, have successfully campaigned to overturn several bans.
  • [06:45.06]
  • The APBA argues that banning plastic bags reduces jobs and harms working families, who are forced to pay more for food and goods.
  • [06:57.61]
  • The group adds that the bags can be reused, and are less harmful to the environment than other products.
  • [07:06.86]
  • Some producers of plastic bags also oppose the idea of banning bags.
  • [07:13.85]
  • Phil Rozenski serves as Director of Sustainability for Novolex.
  • [07:20.94]
  • “These laws were never about plastic bags, they were about reducing litter and marine debris.
  • [07:29.64]
  • The major flaw is that this approach doesn’t change human behavior, it only changes products.”
  • [07:38.38]
  • He argues that the amount of carbon dioxide released in the manufacture of plastic bags is much smaller than that from bags made with other material.
  • [07:51.22]
  • I’m Phil Dierking.
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