Plastic bags are often used for a few minutes before enjoying an eternal afterlife, clogging storm drains, stuffing landfills, killing animals that eat them and contributing to the eight million metric tons of plastic that end up in the world’s oceans every year.
Last month, Kenya took strong action to tackle the scourge. Manufacturers and importers of plastic bags now face fines of $19,000 to $38,000 or four-year-jail terms. Retailers can no longer sell plastic garbage bags. Shoppers risk having plastic bags confiscated.
The ban imposes more difficulties on many Kenyans than just the inconvenience of getting reusable bags. Poor residents of Nairobi rely on plastic bags as “flying toilets” in the absence of a functioning sewage system and of public toilets that don’t charge a fee. The solution is to provide more toilets and latrines.
These human waste-filled bags clog trenches leading to the Nairobi River and have been blamed for the flooding that regularly menaces the city. In 2015, plastic bags clogging waterways were blamed for flooding that killed at least 150 people in Accra, Ghana.
More than 40 countries, including China, France and Rwanda, have taxed, limited or banned plastic bags. By 2019, those bags can no longer be handed out free in Europe.