Plastic has become the most common material since the beginning of the 20th century and modern life is unthinkable without it. Unfortunately, what makes it so useful, such as its durability, light weight and low cost, also makes it problematic when it comes to its end of life phase due to its non-biodegradable nature.
In Kenya, over 24 million plastic bags are used monthly, half of which end up in the solid waste mainstream. Plastic bags now constitute the biggest challenge to solid waste management in the country.
Plastic bags and climate change are linked in a variety of ways. From air quality to ocean toxicity, plastic bags contribute to eco-system disruption. Even worse, plastic is poisonous. Some of its ingredients such as biosphenol-A and Phthalates have been proved to cause cancer, birth defects, impaired immunity, endocrine disruption and other ailments. Additionally, plastic threatens wildlife and is a pollutant of groundwater. Cases of groundwater pollution due to landfills have been reported worldwide, and toxic leachates from landfills are among the major groundwater quality risks, according to the International Association of Hydrological Sciences.
Kenya’s ban follows the United Nations’ new Clean Seas initiative, which has already inspired 10 governments to address plastic pollution.
Indonesia has pledged to reduce marine waste by 70 percent within the next eight years, and Africa, Rwanda and Morocco have already announced bans on plastic bags, with other countries expected to sign on within a month.
“Kenya should be commended for its environmental leadership,” said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment. “It’s a great example that I hope will inspire others, and help drive further commitments to the Clean Seas campaign.”
“Kenya is taking decisive action to remove an ugly stain on its outstanding natural beauty,” Solheim added. “Plastic waste also causes immeasurable damage to fragile ecosystems—both on land and at sea—and this decision is a major breakthrough in our global effort to turn the tide on plastic.”
Recent reports tell of whales suffering and dying after ingesting plastic waste. Including a whale found dead with more than 30 plastic bags in its stomach.
Many marine creatures such as fish, seabirds and turtles are choking on the 8 million metric tons of plastic garbage infesting oceans each year.
According to Douglas Broderick of the UN, “5.25 trillion pieces of plastic are swirling around in the world’s seas. Five giant ‘patches’ of garbage are floating in the world’s oceans. They are nearly equivalent to the entire land mass of Indonesia. They’re growing. Patches have collected so much trash—mostly plastic—they can be seen from space.”
Broderick estimated that at current pollution rates, “there could be more plastic particles than fish in the oceans by 2050.”