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Kenya Announces Ban On Plastic Bags


Here's a story of interest to anybody who ever wondered about the environmental damage caused by plastic bags. Kenya is joining its east African neighbors by announcing that starting this fall plastic bags will be illegal, which the government argues is the right thing to do. But does it match up with reality? NPR's Eyder Peralta went to a neighborhood in Nairobi where plastic bags are essential to daily life.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Kibera is one of the largest slums in Africa. It's a colossal collection of shabby structures. And one of the defining characteristics is plastic. It's on roofs and on walls and clogging drainages. And, of course, there are bags - hills of them. They're used to sort corn or carry produce. Julius Moleil hands his customers 50 cents worth of coal in old plastic bags.

JULIUS MOLEIL: (Foreign language spoken).

PERALTA: He says every single person in Kibera uses plastic bags. And none of his customers are going to carry coal in their hands or even in a reusable sack.

KENNETH OKOTH: It may look very fashionable in international circles. Kenya has taken a drastic step. But in reality, in a place like Kibera, we still need those plastics.

PERALTA: That's Kenneth Okoth, the member of parliament representing the Kibera slum. He says this is an elitist policy put together by a minister without thought. Here in Kibera, for example, where there is little running water - no toilets or outhouses - the ban would affect even biodegradable bags residents used to defecate and urinate in. The so-called pee-poo bags are handed out by NGOs.

Okoth says he understands and supports the need to clean up the environment. But there are better ways to do that, he says, than a blanket ban on plastics.

OKOTH: It's not the plastic's fault. 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.

PERALTA: Back on the streets, I find Eunice Masila. She's a shopkeeper cleaning onions. And she's worried about that plastic bag ban. While women do the bulk of the shopping, she's worried about the money she makes off men. She says men will refuse to carry produce out in the open. And they certainly won't carry it in reusable market bags.

EUNICE MASILA: He don't want to - everyone to know he's carrying onion or he's carrying tomatoes because, in Africa, we believe ladies, they are the one to buy these goods.

PERALTA: Not only that, she says, but right now men also buy opaque bags from her to hide their purchases. That's a little extra business. And something she suspects that lawmakers don't understand. Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Nairobi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.