From: Rodrique Ngowi, Associated Press
Published February 24, 2005 12:00 AM

Study Proposes Plastic Bag Ban in Kenya to Manage Growing Waste Problem

NAIROBI — Kenya should ban flimsy plastic bags and slap a hefty tax on the use of thicker ones to rid the East African nation of a growing environmental and health menace, according to a report released Wednesday.

Supermarkets alone hand out nearly 100 million plastic bags in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, home to 3 million people where only 25 percent of the 1,500 tons (1,650 U.S. tons) of solid waste generated daily is currently collected, according to the study by the United Nations Environment Program, the National Environment Management Authority and Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis.

The bags, many of which are so thin that they are simply thrown away after one trip from the stores, have become a familiar eyesore in both urban and countryside areas, notes the first-ever study of the problem.

Discarded plastic bags hold rain water and block gutters and drains -- preventing the flow of water and sewage, thus providing ideal and new breeding grounds for mosquitoes carrying malaria, Nobel Peace Laureate Wangari Maathai said. Malaria is one of the three leading killer diseases in the world, along with AIDS and tuberculosis.

Discarded bags also choke farm animals and marine wildlife and pollute the soil as they gradually break down, according to the report.


About 100,000 whales, seals, turtles and other marine animals are killed by plastic bags each year worldwide, according to Planet Ark, an Australia-based environmental group, adding that the bags take between 15 and 1,000 years to break down.

A ban on bags less than 30 microns thick, a tax on thicker ones and raising consumer awareness on the environmental costs of plastic bags should be used to reduce their use and provide funds for alternative, more environmental-friendly carriers such as cotton and sisal bags, according to the report.

The measures are particularly suitable for Kenya, whose struggling economy is unable to support the introduction of the more-expensive polyethylene bags that degrade quickly in the environment, Maathai said.

"At least we can start with a simpler solution before going to the more expensive solution," said Maathai, who is also Kenya's deputy environment minister. "It may look simple, but it has a great impact."

The report, titled "Selection, Design and Implementation of Economic Instruments in the Kenyan Solid Waste Management Sector," was launched by the United Nations environment chief Klaus Toepfer.

"Wastes are an increasing problem everywhere, particularly in developing countries," Toepfer said. "The lessons learned from those countries who use so-called economic instruments is that they can change behavior and generate income for more environmentally friendly ways of dealing with waste and rubbish."

Source: Associated Press

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