It is exactly four years since Kenya banned the use of single-use plastic carrier bags. It is important that as we mark the 4th anniversary, and as the world enters into discussions around a global plastic treaty, that we review three important takeaways from our own country’s efforts. 

First, before the 2017 ban, the plastic industry distributed approximately 100 million plastic shopping bags every month to supermarkets, which contributed immensely to pollution on land and water sources. The plastic bags could be seen everywhere hanging on trees, in the air, in landfills, in our farms and in our drainage systems. 

However, since the ban came into effect these bags have since disappeared. The ban has largely been considered a success. Although, there is still a problem with some packaging materials such as bread packaging that still uses single-use bags that are harmful.  

Later on, in 2020 June, the President gave a directive to ban the use of all single-use plastics in protected areas. This indicates that the Kenyan authorities have been progressive in tackling the plastics challenge. But, there is a strong need for the president’s directive to ban the use of all single-use plastics in protected areas to be expanded to all other places in the country. 

The ban and the president’s directive have set in motion the much-needed phase-out of single-use plastics in Kenya. It’s time for businesses to face the reality and stop the production of single-use plastics that pose a big challenge to our environment, health, livelihoods and wellbeing.

Secondly, last year, in the Kenya-US Free Trade Agreement negotiations, there was a proposal by the American Chemistry Council to include plastics. The American Chemistry Council was advising US representatives in the negotiations to use the US-Kenya trade deal to expand the plastic’s industry footprint across Africa. 

However, it is evident that Kenya has made strides in tackling the challenges presented by plastic pollution on the environment, people’s health and well-being. This is demonstrated by the ban on single-use plastic carrier bags that came into effect in 2017 and the president’s directive on the use of single-use plastics in protected areas in June last year. 

It is not just Kenya that is making progress in tackling the challenges of plastic pollution. Many African countries are leading the world in finding solutions to plastic pollution through legislative mechanisms such as bans except for major polluters such as South Africa. 

In total 34 African countries have come up with bans barring production and the use of single-use plastic bags and materials. The trade deal that allows the importation of plastics into Africa through Kenya will threaten these efforts and many other efforts by African countries. An agreement that would allow the importation of plastics in Kenya could turn our communities into dumpsites and diminish what the country has achieved. 

Owing to the nature of the global supply and plastic value chains, the challenge of plastic pollution is transboundary and global in scope. The approaches being taken by Kenya and many other African countries are important and are achieving various outcomes with mixed successes. Looking at the attempts by the American Chemistry Council to sneak in the US-Kenya Free Trade Agreement, a clause that would allow Kenya to be used as an entry point for plastic dumping in Africa despite the ban on plastics in Kenya shows the need for a global approach to the challenges of plastic pollution. The current geographically limited measures and frameworks are unable to address the scale of the plastic pollution challenge.

Evidently, it is time for Kenya and other African countries to support a framework for international cooperation that will enable coordinated actions to address the challenge of plastic pollution. To adequately address the issues of plastic pollution that goes beyond individual country jurisdiction, there is a need for global solidarity. As we mark the 4th single-use plastic carrier bags ban, Kenya and other African governments need to urgently pronounce its support for the global plastic treaty. 

Local, national, regional and global actions are needed to effectively eliminate unnecessary plastics and protect our future from the challenges presented by plastic pollution on our communities and livelihoods. Global solidarity is needed to support efforts by countries like Kenya and many other African countries to sustainably safeguard our future from the plastic crisis. 

By Amos Wemanya

Greenpeace Africa Campaigner

Plastic Clean Up and Brand Audit Activity in Africa. Get Involved