My carrots are droopy and lettuce limp. I find myself literally juggling armfuls of groceries to the car on near a daily basis. It’s pretty strange living life in Nairobi without the ubiquitous plastic bag, so easily proffered and accepted for free here in Kenya until just over 2 weeks ago.
Plastic bags were banned in Kenya on 28th August 2017 and wow, we’ve had to catch on fast. I thought that I might be able to buy or procure a sneaky bag from somewhere (for emergencies of course), but even freezer bags and bin bags have been withdrawn from supermarket shelves. Suddenly there are no bags to line the bathroom bin, no bags to keep veg fresh in the fridge. I find myself stacking slightly leaky packets of raw meat (apparently clingfilm and plastic meat trays are still allowed) alongside bars of chocolate and butter in my recyclable shopping bag (gross). I think that I’m going to have to get more organised and add cold storage bags and ones specially for meat storage too.
I do now remember to put recyclable shopping bags in the car (as if my life depends on it). And to carry at least one more bag than you think you’ll need into the supermarket every time. Today I bought a t-shirt for my youngest daughter at the Masai Market. The vendor kindly removed the clear plastic wrapping before handing it over (in case I got in to any trouble) and I stuffed it into my handbag.
Some stores are giving away sort of mesh, fabric shopping bags for the totally unprepared and selling more substantial shopping bags or kikapu/baskets to cope with the bigger shop. Otherwise, recycled cardboard boxes are often available and after that – we’re back to the brown paper bag.
Earlier this week, our house keeper was terrified. She put her stash of plastic bags into a bin bag but was too nervous to put them out on the road at bin collection day, so instead the night watchman took them ‘somewhere’ to dispose of them on her behalf. Why was she so nervous? Earlier this month there were rumours that NEMA (National Environment Management Authority) were conducting spot checks on households to make sure there were no bags lurking inside homes (this turned out to be a false but was reportedly a ruse used by wily thieves to gain entry to private houses). And there have been stories of people being accosted (by police?) on the streets if a plastic bag is spotted anywhere on their person.
I felt a bit nervous entering Jomo Kenyatta Airport with a duty free plastic bag last week (so hid it my hand luggage), however, I didn’t think of how many bags were in my suitcases – I always wrap shampoos/face wash etc in plastic bags as I’ve had disasters in the past. A friend who arrived back from UK recently made sure that she got rid of all the plastic bags from inside her suitcases as well (I didn’t think of this) in case she was searched by customs on entry to Nairobi.
Yesterday workers were demonstrating on Mombasa Road about losing jobs in the plastic bag manufacture industry, even though the planned ban was announced in February. Apparently the plastic bottle’s days are also numbered in Kenya (probably not a bad thing). We are allowed branded rubbish bags that are part of paid for garbage collection by private companies, but that’s it.
Since the ban, I’ve found myself hoarding recycled freezer bags or plastic shopping bags like a kind of drug addict with a forbidden stash. Perhaps plastic bags will become like a black market currency and we’ll start gifting illegal plastic bags to one another on birthdays and Christmases?
Even though the whole thing has been handled with a strong armed approach, it certainly does help to speed up behaviour change for a nation. And the ridding of the plastic bag scourge in Kenya can only be a good thing. Look at the side of any road anywhere up or down the country and you’ll see remnants of plastic bags scattering the verge and beyond, which is why the offending item has often been referred to as ‘The flower of Africa’. Slums like Dandora abut giant city rubbish tips and the smell of burning plastic abounds. Let’s hope that all this will now change.
The Guardian: Kenya brings in World’s toughest plastic bag ban.
Featured image credit: Mine,