After years of delays, a ban on plastic bags came into effect earlier this week in Kenya. The ban, considered one of the toughest in the world, means that anyone found selling, manufacturing or carrying them could face fines of up to $40,000 or prison sentences of up to four years. With the move, Kenya joins a number of other African countries to ban plastic bags including, amongst others, Rwanda, Mauritania, Tunisia, and Botswana.
In Eritrea, plastic bags were banned from the city of Asmara, the capital, in early 2002, following bans in other areas, including Keren and Dekemhare. Then in 2004, the Government of the State of Eritrea (GSE) enacted a national legal notice to ban plastic bags throughout the country. The ban, which came into effect nationally in January 2005, outlawed the import, production, sale, or distribution of plastic bags, and was characterized by stiff fines (importantly, these were mainly directed at producers and distributors).
Beyond the GSE’s enactment of a legal notice, various ministries and organizations have worked together to educate the public about the importance of protecting the environment and the significant damage caused by the bags. Early on, community administrators discussed how bags were being eaten by goats, cows, and sheep, causing hundreds to die, and thus helped increase support for the move among numerous rural communities and farmers. As well, national radio, television, and newspapers promote positive environmental habits, while young Eritreans are taught about the need to recycle.
Although plastic bags were once highly popular and ubiquitous in the country, Eritreans have generally responded positively. Additionally, local municipal/administrative police managed by each municipality occasionally check grocery stores or other businesses to ensure they are not using plastic bags. Today, Eritreans use cloth, nylon, or straw bags, which are frequently locally manufactured, and many of the problems associated with plastic bags – such as the blockage of drains and water pipes, spread of disease, deaths to farm animals and marine wildlife, pollution to the soil and general environment, and contribution to a bleak and disheartening visual landscape – have been dramatically reduced.