When we think of Africa, it’s usually wide open spaces, jungle and deserts that spring to mind. It’s an ancient landscape, much of it untouched by the modern world… or perhaps not.
The modern world is increasingly making its mark – oil and mineral exploration (exploitation) particularly. Plastic bags are also becoming a common visual reminder that the concept of “remote” in relation to our planet is rapidly becoming a memory.
Billions of plastic bags can be seen scattered around the landscape across the continent and the plastic bag industry has grown fat as a result of rapidly increasing production since the 1990’s.
Up until recently Kenya was producing around 4,000 tons of polythene bags each month. In Kenya alone, approximately one million shopping bags are given out by supermarkets each year. In Nairobi, 1500 tonnes of solid waste is collected monthly, of which an average of 225 tonnes is plastics.
The bags aren’t only a visual pollutant, they clog up drains, kill animals that ingest them and serve as miniature breeding ponds for disease ladened mosquitoes. With less than 1% of plastic bags being recycled, the problem is hitting critical levels.
Africans can be be very thrifty people, reusing items more than we do in the west, but part of the problem with the bags used over there is that they tend to be so thin, they can only be used once before being discarded. It’s been suggested that this design has been no accident, but a way for plastic bag manufacturers to make more money.
In June this year, Kenya’s Minister for Finance announced that manufacture of plastic bags of thirty microns or less will be banned from 1st January 2008. Consumers are now also being encouraged to re-use the heavier gauge plastic bags for a second, third and even fourth shopping trip.
It’s a great step forward by the Kenyan government!