In Kenya, Selling or Importing Plastic Bags Will Cost You $19,000 — or Jail

Fruit and vegetable sellers were at a loss for how to market their produce, and some residents mistook ordinary traffic controllers for law enforcement officials looking to punish consumers who violated the new law. In informal settlements, where most of the city’s residents live, plastic bags are used as “flying toilets” — holding human waste in the absence of a proper sewage system.

Judy Wakhungu, Kenya’s environment minister, tried to allay people’s fears, telling Reuters that the ban was primarily aimed at manufacturers and suppliers. “Ordinary wananchi will not be harmed,” she said, using a Kiswahili word for “common person.”

Kenya tried to ban the use of plastic bags in 2007 and 2011, but the limits were not put in place.

The new regulations call for a fine of $19,000 to $38,000 or a four-year jail term for those manufacturing or importing plastic bags in Kenya. Plastics used in primary industrial packaging are exempt, according to the National Environment Management Authority, although it said that the new regulation would prohibit retailers from selling garbage bags.

Kenyans have had several months to adjust to the idea of the new rules, a period during which big supermarket chains like Nakumatt and the French multinational retail giant Carrefour began offering cloth bags instead of plastic. The country’s High Court last week rejected a case filed by two plastic bag importers to drop the ban, saying that protecting the environment was more important than the companies’ commercial interests.

Before the ban went into effect, Chege Kariuki, the chairman of the Waste and Environment Management Association of Kenya, said that garbage collectors would be unable to operate without plastic bin liners. “Waste management in Nairobi will become impossible for all waste companies,” he told The Star, a Kenyan newspaper.

Samuel Matonda, a spokesman for the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, said the new regulation could cost up to 60,000 jobs. “The knock-on effects will be very severe,” Mr. Matonda told The Standard newspaper. “It will even affect the women who sell vegetables in the market — how will their customers carry their shopping home?”

In lieu of plastic, the Kenyan government has encouraged people to tote reusable alternatives, including bags made of paper, cloth and sisal, a plant with stiff leaves.

Worldwide, plastic bags contribute to eight million tons of plastic that leak into the ocean every year,…

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