Kenya bans carrier bags

I now return to my second favourite niche blog topic after polyamory: carrier bags!

A friend points me towards this article as proof that banning carrier bags is not just a wealthy, middle-class hobby-horse. Let’s see, shall we?

Kenyans producing, selling or even using plastic bags will risk imprisonment of up to four years or fines of $40,000 (£31,000) from Monday, as the world’s toughest law aimed at reducing plastic pollution came into effect.

The average monthly salary in Kenya is about $1,400 $76.

Kenya’s law allows police to go after anyone even carrying a plastic bag.

I can’t see this being abused at all, oh no. This looks less like an environmental measure than a typically African method of keeping the peasants in line.

Many bags drift into the ocean, strangling turtles, suffocating seabirds and filling the stomachs of dolphins and whales with waste until they die of starvation.

Kenya’s population is about 47m. It’s largest city is Nairobi with 3.1m, located about 480km from the sea. It’s largest port city is Mombasa with a population of 1.2m. I can well believe an awful lot of plastic gets chucked into the sea around there, but why the nationwide ban? Do plastic bags from Nairobi really end up in the sea? Has anyone studied this?

“If we continue like this, by 2050, we will have more plastic in the ocean than fish,” said Habib El-Habr, an expert on marine litter working with the UN environment programme in Kenya.

Ah, right. This is all part of UN campaign, no doubt being pushed by wealthy, middle-class bureaucrats living in the swanky areas of Nairobi, assuming they even live in Kenya. Habib El-Habr, who I doubt is Kenyan, has been working in the UN since 1988. When do you think he last did his own shopping?

Plastic bags, which El-Habr says take between 500 to 1,000 years to break down, also enter the human food chain through fish and other animals. In Nairobi’s slaughterhouses, some cows destined for human consumption had 20 bags removed from their stomachs.

I don’t doubt that there is awful plastic pollution in Kenya – I’ve seen the beaches near Lagos after all – but this is more to do with the country having no proper waste management system. This is a direct result of a culture of graft, corruption, and callous neglect on the part of the ruling elites (enabled and supported by the likes of the UN) so common to most of Africa, but nobody wants to address that. Instead, the ruling elites can earn applause from international bodies and western middle classes by passing draconian, blanket bans which won’t affect them.

It took Kenya three attempts over 10 years to finally pass the ban, and not everyone is a fan.

So why did it take three attempts? Was it because the ban is being foisted on the people of Kenya by do-gooder outsiders with no stake in the country? Alas, the Guardian doesn’t say.

Samuel Matonda, spokesman for the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, said it would cost 60,000 jobs and force 176 manufacturers to close. Kenya is a major exporter of plastic bags to the region.

Ah, but who cares about them? There is the greater good to consider. They can always go back to a life of peasant agriculture.

“The knock-on effects will be very severe,” Matonda said. “It will even affect the women who sell vegetables in the market – how will their customers carry their shopping home?”

And we’re at the same place we are in the west: wealthy middle-classes who live near shops, drive cars, or have domestic helpers lobby for laws whose impact will fall mainly on the poor in order to make themselves feel virtuous. But do these people lobby for a ban on disposable nappies? No, of course not. No way are these middle-class mothers going to rinse shitty nappies in the sink and boil them on the stove.

Big Kenyan supermarket chains like France’s Carrefour and Nakumatt have already started offering customers cloth bags as alternatives.

And those who can’t afford to shop in Carrefour will just have to risk crippling fines for carrying their yams home in a carrier bag from the market. The good news is they can probably get the policeman to waive the fines in return for sexual favours.


18 thoughts on “Kenya bans carrier bags

  1. “The average monthly salary in Kenya is about $1,400.”

    Tee Hee.

    GDP per capita is about $1,400 and I significantly doubt that the average monthly salary is 10x annual GDP.

  2. “No way are these middle-class mothers going to rinse shitty nappies in the sink and boil them on the stove.”

    And working class fathers like me. Done that, too 🙁

    As for waste bags, we in the UK are determined to get dog shit off the streets. That’s laudable enough (possibly prior to our new friends taking over fully and who don’t like dogs at all) and in our house we always clean up after our pooch. I do know that dogs are an inefficient way to turn dog food into poo but, we do what we can to keep the environment clean and bin what we collect.

    The pressure is on now that all dog droppings are bagged, but what do we see? People throw their bagged up dog poo on the ground where the dog did it or even better, hang them in trees and bushes or on fences. The law doesn’t say much more than bagging up though it hints at ‘proper disposal’ which is nebulous. I believe many of these plastic doggy bags deteriorate quickly which, er, leaves the canine doo-doo more or less where it was delivered.

    Gotta love laws. However they are aimed or framed, there is always a way out for the determined.

  3. GDP per capita is about $1,400 and I significantly doubt that the average monthly salary is 10x annual GDP.

    Yeah, that does look like shite, doesn’t it? I’ll correct it.

  4. So no one will be able to afford the fines and will have to do time instead.

    That’s why it took 10 years to work out – which provider was going to profit most and be able to thus provide the biggest bakhandas (in this case the prison operators) – and how could we get them to profit?

  5. We are told that some ‘bugs’ are eating the RMS Titanic… Well if ‘bugs’ can ‘eat’ steel there must be something that will ‘eat’ plastic. Then our plastic problem will be solved.

    ‘bugs’ = Halomonas titanicae bacterium

  6. Plastic bags, which El-Habr says take between 500 to 1,000 years to break down

    Utter shite. Since the 1970’s, plastic shopping bags have been made of a polyethylene polymer that is designed to break down into fertilizer hydrocarbons when exposed to UV light – sunlight, in other words. The reason plastic bags last that long in landfills is they get plowed under where it’s dark.

    Then again, a high school student doing a science fair project demonstrated several years ago that you can disintegrate plastic bags in a couple of months by burying them in soil supercharged with the naturally occurring soil bacteria that’s already there (which is only possible because of the designed-in envirodegrability in the first place).

    Plastic bags are a non-issue.

  7. Apologies beforehand, but I was immediately reminded of writer Robert Twigger:

    “The Visa trip was the ultimate “Get Out Of Jail Free” card, and this was my last chance to play it. I bought a cheap ticket to Singapore, and flew out a day later. I have never experienced such relief. Climing higher and higher into the sky above Tokyo and then winging back across the mainland and over the blue Pacific, all the tensions of the previous days drained away. I ordered a couple of American beers and wrote in my diary: “What is the value of freedom? To be able to breathe without difficulty.”
    I relished my sudden and complete freedom in Singapore. No matter that there were 500 dollar fines for urinating in lifts and that chewing gum was banned, to me it was complete and utter freedom. I could do anything, go anywhere. I decided to make a trip into Malaysia to save money.

    At Singapore railway station I bought a cheap ticket to Johor Baharu. As the train pulled out and we were nominally in Malaysia, everyone on the train pulled out illegal packets of Wrigley and started chewing happily. I caught a bus to Kuala Lumpur in Johor Baharu. An old lady occupied the entire back seat and defecated into a pinkish plastic bag as we drove along. The stench was appalling. Outside, I could see the Malaysian countryside littered with similar pinkish plastic bags. For me, it became the national colour of Malaysia. I didn’t even mind the smell. I could only think: “What have I been cooped up in a dingy Japanese Dojo for so long for? Why had I voluntarily put myself in a Japanese prison? I could think of no good answer.”

    ….I wouldn’t want to take a long distance bus journey in Kenya at any point in the immediate future.

  8. Having lived in Africa this is what will happen the police will go after poor people who use carrier bags to get bribes making their lives more difficult. while the middle class and rich get away with using carrier bags if they want to. Silly middle class Africans are already praising it on twitter and suggesting it be implemented in their countries. It seems that some behaviours are universal

  9. That’s why it took 10 years to work out – which provider was going to profit most and be able to thus provide the biggest bakhandas (in this case the prison operators) – and how could we get them to profit?

    Yup. All the big men would have sat down and worked out who stands to make money from this, and those making money from the status quo would have demanded to know how they’ll be compensated before agreeing to anything. If the environment got mentioned even once I’d be surprised.

  10. It seems that some behaviours are universal

    When it comes to the pompous middle classes haranguing the poor and making their lives more difficult through self-righteous posturing, yes.

  11. The irony is that many people won’t fancy having items which can land them a ten grand fine hanging around at home, so will nip out during the night and dump whatever bags they have.

    It really is an idiotic decision. I thought our governing class was deranged but they must be breathless in admiration over this.

  12. Jesus, 40 grand not ten. That’s insane. That would be like fining someone a million pounds in England for carrying some potatoes home from the market in a carrier bag. Who would pay that? The jails would be full of carrier bag criminals – the government would have to let out all the terrorists and muggers to fit them in, and their dream would be realised – incarceration of the political criminals, those who offend against Holy Progressivism (blowing up schoolgirls at concerts does not count).

  13. You would have thought that after 12,000 years or so of man-made evolution, that dog breeders would have come up with one that shat only in the woods and then buried what it had done.
    There’s a breed that can do almost everything else.

  14. Latest from the BBC

    Who would have thought, eh? Next we’ll find out they didn’t think things through properly.

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