Kenya’s high court approved a law Monday that is considered the toughest ban on plastic bags in the world, with penalties up to four years in prison and $40,000 in fines for using them.
The laws are primarily aimed at plastic bag manufacturers but police will be allowed to go after individuals for using plastic bags, including plastic trash bags.
The litter caused by plastic bags is almost permanent because they can take several decades to decompose, causing pollution to pile up in urban areas and in waterways. The United Nations Environmental Program says that 100 million plastic bags are handed out each year in Kenya, The Washington Postreported.
“It is a toxin that we must get rid of,” Judi Wakhungu, the country’s Cabinet secretary for the environment, told reporters. “It’s affecting our water. It’s affecting our livestock and, even worse, we are ingesting this as human beings.”
Although African governments are getting tough on plastic, many locals disagree with banning an everyday product that has a multitude of uses.
NPR reported that residents of Kenya overwhelmingly oppose the plastic bag ban, including Julius Moleil, a charcoal seller in one of Kenya’s slums. Moleil said selling charcoal will be difficult if he doesn’t have anything for customers to put it in and carry it around.
Kenneth Okoth, a member of the Kenyan Parliament, said a better solution would be to improve methods of cleaning up areas where plastic bags cause an environmental problem.
“It’s not the plastic’s fault,” he said. “It’s a lack of a system to collect the plastic and reuse it and make a value chain out of it beyond that first usage.”