The East African nation of Kenya has officially banned the sale of plastic shopping bags, and those who break the law face fines up to $40,000 and four years in jail. Rwanda has had a plastic bag ban since 2008, but the penalties for breaking their bag laws are nowhere near as harsh as Kenya’s.
The UN’s Environmental Program estimates that around 100 million shopping bags are handed out to Kenyan shoppers each year, and because polyethylene bags can take hundreds or even thousands of years to decompose, they have become a nuisance in the nation’s urban areas. In addition to being litter with serious staying power, discarded plastic bags may also collect water, which provides prime breeding grounds for malaria carrying mosquitos. The deluge of bags has also clogged local sewer drains and killed marine and street animals that have ingested the inedible bags.
Even though the potential sentences for the new law are on the severe side in Kenya, developing nations often lack the funds for substantial sanitation programs, and many African nations have decided to skip the middleman by banning or limiting the sales of plastic bags, including Cameroon, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Malawi.
Many Kenyans are concerned about the jobs the ban will kill in the process. There are 176 plastic bag manufacturers in Kenya, and nearly 3 percent of employed Kenyans work in the plastics industry. While some claim that these jobs will be replaced with new ones that will create government compliant bags, others worry about the deforestation that may come with the influx of the new paper bags.
Other nations have placed bans and limitations on the sale of plastic bags outside of the African continent, including China and France, and even Hawaii adopted a statewide ban in 2015 that prohibits stores from handing out non-biodegradable plastic bags at the checkout line. Pay attention if you aren’t a fan of reusable bags because your local government might be the next one to outlaw plastic bags…