Kenya to push for total plastic ban as global meeting begins in Nairobi

The single-use plastics that were banned years ago are making their way back into the Kenyan market.

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

As the world converges on Nairobi this week for the third session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-3) at the United Nations Headquarters in Gigiri, Kenya says it has seven key priorities in mind, with a total phase-out of chemicals used in plastics at the top of the list.

In February 2022, during the fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2), a historic resolution known as Resolution 5/14 was adopted to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution.

Kenya was also praised for its ban on single-use plastics.

But as Nairobi hosts the new round of talks on plastic pollution, a dark cloud hangs over the country as the same single-use plastics that were banned years ago are making their way back into the market.

In fact, traders are openly packaging goods in these transparent plastic bags. The environment ministry acknowledges the challenge but insists that much progress has been made in enforcing the plastic ban.

"While the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) has been enforcing the ban on single-use plastics since 2017, so far we have collected over 70 000 pieces of banned plastic bags, five machines for producing plastic carrier bags and we have over 30 active cases in various courts across the country on banned plastic bags. We have held eight regional sensitisation meetings on banned plastic bags," CS Soipan Tuya told Nation.Africa.

She added: "We are pushing for a regional approach so that all East African countries ban single-use plastics. Currently, in Kenya, we have a compliance rate of over 80 per cent for single-use plastics. We used to go through 100 million bags a month from supermarket chains alone. Now they've all complied.

Nema is on record as saying that enforcement is the responsibility of the county governments. It issued a notice early last week accusing manufacturers of flouting the law by changing some of their packaging to plastic.

"There is the manufacture, importation, sale and use of the clear, flimsy plastic flat bags (mainly used by small traders); there is the importation, manufacture and sale of garbage bags (bin liners), seedling planting bags and zip-lock bags (among others) at retail outlets in contravention of the laid down rules; and goods traditionally packed in paper balers (such as flour, matchboxes, books, printing paper, cigarettes, etc.) are now largely packed in plastic bags.

A variety of plastic balers (PE, HDPE, PP sacks and even non-woven) have now been introduced and are being used under the guise that they are outside the scope of the plastic ban, the widespread use of non-recyclable laminates (which could otherwise be done in paper packaging) is already proving to be a recycling challenge and the transition to biodegradable (compostable) seedling planting bags is long overdue," Nema stressed in the public notice.

"The Authority recommends a move to the 100 per cent biodegradable (compostable) alternatives. The importation, manufacture and retail sale of garbage bags (bin liners), seedling planting bags and zip-lock bags (among others) is prohibited, and the use of plastic balers made from any form of plastic polymer is prohibited," the notice said.

Kenya says it hopes the Nairobi plastic meetings (INC-3) will take decisive steps to rid the world of plastic pollution. The Nairobi meeting was preceded by two INC meetings. INC-1 was held in Punta del Este, Uruguay, from November 28 to December 2, 2022, while INC-2 was held in Paris, France, from May 29 to June 2, 2023.

"One of the key considerations at INC-3 will be the launch of negotiations on the ‘Zero draft text of the international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment (UNEP/PP/INC.3/4), a document that INC-2 requested the Chair of the INC process to prepare, with the support of the secretariat,” the INC secretariat explained.

 “The Zero Draft is the key starting point to facilitate and support the committee’s work in developing the international legally binding instrument called for by Resolution 5/14 and is guided by the views expressed at the committee’s first and second sessions.”

Speaking to the Nation on Sunday, the Environment CS disclosed that the other six key issues for Kenya are addressing legacy plastics, controlling the production of plastics polymers, extended producer responsibility, a just transition, protection of the ecosystem and promoting transparency and predictable financial mechanisms.

“The Zero Draft document will guide the INC-3 discussions and address the plastic challenge by proposing core control measures as key obligations for member states,” CS Tuya explained.

The CS further added that the seven agenda items for Kenya were agreed upon after the country’s technical working group sat down with the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) among other stakeholders.

“The African Group of Negotiators (AGN), comprising INC focal points from African countries, met in Kampala in October 2023 and considered the Zero draft text then came up with the African Position to guide the African Negotiators in framing their national positions. We then established a Working Group to deliberate on issues pertaining to the ongoing negotiations for a legally binding instrument on plastic pollution,” CS Tuya told Nation.Africa.