Maharashtra should be encouraged by Kenya’s plastic ban success
In August 2017, Kenya banned a wide range of plastic products. Nearly a year later, results are promisingUpdated: May 07, 2018 00:09 IST
In March, Maharashtra announced a ban on a variety of plastic products including grocery bags, one-use food containers made of plastic foam, locally called thermocol, and disposable cutlery. The government has not started punishing offenders and has given plastic product manufacturers and traders a window period of a few months to adjust to the ban.
As Maharashtra moves towards enforcing the ban, it can look at parallels in a similar experiment in Kenya, a rapidly urbanising country with development levels similar to India. In August 2017, in a notice that is considered one of the most stringent in the world on plastic use — visitors flying from abroad had to leave plastic bags at the airport and fines are several times the average national wage — the East African country banned a wide range of products.
This is Kenya’s third attempt in 10 years at a plastic ban. This is not the first time that Maharashtra banned plastics. In July 2005, when record rains and floods killed over a 1,000 people in Mumbai, environmentalists and urban planners said the floods were aggravated by plastic bags that clogged drains. Maharashtra decided to ban the sale and use of plastic bags below 40 microns in thickness. In 2015, the state extended the ban to bags below 50 microns thick. The restrictions were not enforced.
When Maharashtra announced the ban, the Maharashtra Plastic Manufacturers Association said that 200,000 jobs in plastic products units will be lost. Other estimates of job losses range between 50,000 and 300,000. In Kenya, plastic manufacturers argued against the ban, saying that 80,000 jobs will go.
Plastic manufacturers in Maharashtra have filed petitions in the high court against the ban. In Kenya, the courts dismissed a challenge by plastic product makers against the ban.
Kenya’s government gave citizens a six-month window to adjust to the ban, to shift to other products and to dispose of plastic in their possession. During this period, the country did not enforce the fines and prison sentence on violators. The Maharashtra government has given plastic consumers and manufacturers time till June 23 to dispose of all banned plastic items, after which the municipal corporation will start taking punitive action against violators.
Kenya’s anti-plastic law was considered draconian, with imprisonment terms up to four years and fines up to several times the national per capita income (Kenya’s average annual income was around 1,500 US$ in 2016, according to the World Bank – India’s income is a little higher), but the government ignored the criticism.
It is nearly a year after Kenya’s ban and the reports from there should encourage Maharasthra. Kenya’s main environmental agency, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) has declared the ban a success, so much so that the country’s neighbours like Rwanda, Uganda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Burundi are considering similar bans.
The country’s streets have less trash and the waterways are cleaner. In April, the Bombay high court, while hearing petitions filed by plastic manufacturers challenging the ban, said chocking of rivers and other water bodies can be stopped only by imposing a blanket plastic ban.
A senior NEMA official told a British newspaper that animals are ingesting less plastic. Abattoirs used to find plastic bags in the bowels of three out of every 10 animals; the number is now one in 10, the official said. Stray cattle and wild animals accidentally ingesting plastic is a concern in India too. Fishermen on Kenya’s Indian Ocean coast and Lake Victoria are finding less plastic bags entangled in their nets. A senior NEMA official was quoted by a British media agency as saying that the opposition from plastic manufacturers has reduced. The companies are now coming by themselves to offer solutions, the official said. The Kenyan government is planning a detailed study to find out the impact of the ban.
The head of the United Nations Environment Programme has said that Kenya’s success should y encourage other countries to ban plastic bags and other single-use plastics.