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Tough choice for Kenya in EAC push for total ban on plastic bags

The East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) members are headed for a major showdown as Rwanda pushes on with its bid for a total ban on use of polythene bags in the region.

The EAC Polythene Materials Control Bill, 2016 moved by Rwanda’s Patricia Hajabakiga tops the agenda of EALA’s two-week special session which begins in Nairobi on Monday. Use of polythene bags is illegal in Rwanda.

“The Bill, 2016 aims at providing a legal framework for the preservation of a clean and healthy environment through the prohibition of manufacturing, sale, importation and use of polythene materials,” EALA said in a statement last week.

The light non-biodegradable plastic bags – primarily used for packaging at retail stores– have been cited as top environmental nuisance across East Africa.

The civil society campaigners across the region have been united in their call for total ban on use of polythene bags which are also seen as posing health risks to citizens.

This is the second time that Ms Hajabakiga will be trying lobby the regional parliamentarians to adopt the law banning use of plastic within the trading bloc.

She first introduced the same bill in 2011, attracting resistance from Kenya, which hosts most of East Africa’s established plastic bag manufacturers.

Kenya had petitioned the EAC Parliament to introduce a levy instead of imposing a blanket ban on polythene bags as Rwanda had proposed.

It opposed the ban on grounds that the multi-billion shilling investments in the sector would be affected, leading to loss of thousands of jobs.

Kenya has previously tried to rein in pollution from polythene materials but lax enforcement has left many suburbs and rivers choking with the waste.

In 2007, the Treasury moved to slap a 120 per cent levy on plastics to protect the environment from degradation. It also proposed a ban on very thin plastic bags.

Protests from traders that the 120 per cent tax would make the plastic bags too expensive forced the parliamentary committee on Trade and Finance to propose introduction of a green tax instead.

“Generally, stakeholders in Kenya suggested adjustment to specifications of polythene materials other than total ban and the introduction of a levy to allow Nema to manage the waste,” EALA said in a statement issued after a serious of public consultations held across the country.

Kenya may find itself isolated when the Bill comes up for debate in Nairobi this week. Tanzania has since enacted a national law which bans the use of plastic bags from January.

Uganda – which has acknowledged challenges in the disposal of plastic wastes due to absence of recycling facilities within its borders– has since indicated willingness to fully implement a law on control of polythene materials which it passed in 2009.

President Uhuru Kenyatta is scheduled to address the special session of EALA on Tuesday next week.

Also to be debated during the two week period is the EAC Gender Equality and Development Bill, 2016 which may put Kenya on the spot over its own constitutional implementation record.


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