February 25th 2018

Society / Environment

East African MPs making headway on polythene materials control

“We recognize the need to push for sustainable development goals and do support the spirit of this bill. However, the issue is a waste disposal problem and we suggest that the bill should include waste management in its provisions,” KAM representative said.

By Carolyne Jendeka and Jonathan OdongoSunday, 05 Feb 2017 19:29 EAT

The bill, if passed, will check the plastic menace in many Kenyan towns and villages.

The East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) held a consultative meeting with invited stakeholders to discuss the East African Community (EAC) Polythene Materials Control Bill, 2016 on 1st February 2017 at Nairobi Safari Club. The bill moved by Rwandan MP Patricia Hajabakiga aims to provide a legal framework for preservation of a clean and healthy environment by regulating the manufacturing, sale, importation and use of polythene materials within East Africa.

According to Hon. Valerie Nyirahabineza, the bill is being fronted with the background that the EA region has been unable to manage polythene waste since the materials have been left flying around, hanging on trees, finding their way into seas, oceans, lakes thus harming wildlife, blocking drainage systems, finding way into the food chain through animal consumption and are generally a health hazard.

“Polythene material is very harmful to the environment by the mere fact that even when managed well the waste is still not biodegradable and would remain in the environment for thousands of years to come. It is imperative to control polythene material production and use,” Hon. Patricia Hajabakiga said.

The Assembly supported their position by quoting global studies, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency and a number of countries that have taken steps to control polythene materials. “Polythene material is a menace world over and globally, many countries have seen the harmful nature of polythene waste and are making major steps towards controlling it.” Hon. Patricia Hajabakiga said.

“Countries like China havebanned the issuance of free plastic bags; some statesin USA like California have banned business owners from handing out free paper bags; Taiwan, Ireland, France have banned or increased taxes on the materials in order to encourage shoppers to reuse or carry alternatives and Bangladesh banned plastic bags after they realized they block the drainage systems. In the EA, only Rwanda has banned the use of polythene bags,” she continued.

Kenyan stakeholders were in support of the bill albeit with amendments and reservations. Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) argued that solid waste and environmental pollution issues should be looked at holistically in terms of the most harmful waste since polythene is just one amongst many ‘wastes’. Motor vehicle fumes, chemical waste and nuclear waste are even more harmful. The difference is that polythene is more visible.

Recycling not economically viable

“The cost of recycling polythene is higher than production of new plastics thus making it economically unviable unless governments intervene. According to U.S Environmental Protection Agency only 1% of plastic waste gets recycled due to cost implications,”said Hon. Patricia Hajabakiga.

Kenya MP Hon. Njogu Barua highlighted that the bill has social and economic implications.  He drew attention to the fact that Kenya has a thriving industry in the sector and is a leading manufacturer and distributor in Eastern Africa and ranks 4th in Africa. “There are 176 companies who have invested in the sector which supports 60,000 families directly through employment, about 600,000 indirectly and is great contributor to the GDP of the country,”Njogu said.

KAM echoed Njogu’s sentiments adding that compared to the alternatives suggested, polythene is cheaper to produce, durable, provides food safety and maintains food hygiene unlike paper which is not reusable and incase of contact with liquid, foodstuffs like bread can easily get mold.

The problem is humans not polythene

KAM also held the view that in terms of environmental conservation and climate change, polythene has low carbon emission and minimal impact on the ozone layer, produces less heat compared to heat released during production of alternatives and uses only 10% of water during production compared to the alternatives. KAM also stressed that polythene is reusable, easy to reduce and some recyclable unlike paper bags that are used only once. 

“We as key players in this industry recognize the need to push for sustainable development goals and do support the spirit of this bill.However, the issue here seems to be a human problem of waste disposal and we suggest that the bill should include waste management in its provisions in order to make governments accountable to the agenda,” KAM said through their representative.

 “It is our opinion that comprehensive solid waste management should be adopted through a private-public sector coordination arrangement and also look towards creating a culture of environmental waste management through teaching in schools and imposition of fines for littering,” they added.

Worried that governments would dither with the process, the stakeholders emphasized that monitoring and evaluation should be included in the bill to make countries adhere to the law once put in place to fast track enforcement. They added that categories of punishment and reinforcement be specified in the bill in case of breaking the law for countries, industries and end users.

KAM together with other stakeholders from the civil society and government ministriesproposed a reviewof the proposed implementation timeframe pointing out that the one year period recommended was unrealistic for the industry.

The chair quipped that the legislation was not demonizing trade and development and promised that consultations will continue in order to arrive at a balanced position.

Ms Jendeka is a sociologist with interest in community development and social activism while Mr Odongo is the founder and executive director of the Kenya Environmental Education Network

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