The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) has called on small businesses operators commonly referred to as Mama Mbogas to avoid use of flimsy paper bags to package their merchandise and embrace use of recommended biodegradable bags that are friendly to the environment.
NEMA through its Rapid Environmental Response Unit (RERU) conducted a crackdown in Eldoret town targeting bakeries and shops using banned plastic bags and also petrol stations, hotels and milk processing factories to ensure they comply with the law by obtaining valid Effluent Discharge Licence (EDL).
The swoop was intended to contain discharge of hazardous waste into the environment which will further pollute rivers and other water sources.
In an interview with the Kenya News Agency during the operation on the banned plastics in Eldoret, Uasin Gishu County NEMA Director of Environment Solomon Kihiu said that plastics pose a serious threat to the environment and urged members of the public to embrace use of the recommended biodegradable bags to package their products.
He noted that there was a defined procedure for manufacturers and all users of plastic bags who are supposed to apply for clearance to be allowed to use the recommended plastic bags.
Mr Kihiu said this is usually done so that when manufacturers manufacture plastic bags, they have set standards and also have a take back mechanism where the used plastics are supposed to be taken back by the manufacturer.
“The polythene bags are causing a lot of harm to our environment, we have seen flooding in our cities, and it is because storm drains are blocked by these polythene bags. We want the community, the mama mbogas and all of them to adhere and use the recommended bags,” he said.
The director warned manufacturers and users of the banned flimsy paper bags that the law that came into effect in 2017 has punitive penalties and that they risk a fine of a minimum of Sh2 million and maximum of Sh4 million if one is caught with even a single polythene bag.
“It is either 2 million or 1 year in prison that is the penalty. Whether we get you with one polythene bag with no licence that is the punishment, we don’t have categories of the penalties for manufacturers or users,” said Mr Kihiu.
“We are warning the users of those plastic bags, we are telling all of them we have a lot of alternatives in the market and we want them to adhere to that,” he added.
NEMA Regional Director for Rift Valley Njoki Mukiri who led a team from the authority’s headquarters affirmed that the banned plastic bags are coming back slowly through porous borders and noted that they would embrace a multi-agency approach to sustain the operations to ensure the plastics bags do not get back in to the market.
She noted that the crackdown targeted mainly people operating bakeries, supermarkets and shops because that is where the flimsy bags are used in large numbers.
Ms Mukiri affirmed that the team had discovered that there was laxity in people who had been cleared to use the bags to renew license on time and also adhering to the conditions of the licence.
“We have already arrested about four people mainly from bakeries because we found that they are using these bags that are printed but are not cleared by NEMA. We have realized that they have been issued with clearance but are not adhering to the conditions that were issued and that is why we have arrested them and we are going to arraign them in the court of law,” said Ms Mukiri.
She noted that the enforcement of the law to curb the banned plastics has been very successful and that the only challenge was few cases of plastic bags coming in through porous borders from the neighbouring countries, which calls for sustained surveillance to prevent further entry of banned plastics into the country.
“We want to ensure that we sustain this kind of inspections because we have realized that we still have very porous borders around, like Eldoret which is not very far from the Uganda border and therefore these papers can easily be brought in,” she said.
“We want to embrace a multi-agency approach and work with other agencies because these bags are coming in from neighbouring countries,” she added.
NEMA Environmental Inspector Sophie Mutemi warned the members of the public who have been using the banned plastics that the law is still in force despite the fact that many have relaxed and have forgotten hence end up using the outlawed plastic bags.
“We are here to send out a warning to the members of the public that the law will catch up with them. NEMA will not relent, we are going to ensure that we rid the country of the flimsy plastic bags and they should know that once we get hold of them, we will prosecute them and will ensure that no one is left out using the banned plastics,” warned Mutemi.
By Ekuwam Sylvester