KAM Chief Executive, Ms. Phyllis Wakiaga
When the parliamentary committee on environment tabled recommendation for the suspension of the implementation of the plastic bag ban in June, it did so with foresight and the understanding that the manner in which the ban had come into place would leave the country in economic disarray and in the end, will not give us a clean environment as intended.
It noted that the country was one of the first to implement a total ban on commercial, household and industrial plastics and that recycling of plastics was a preferred measure to address plastic waste management. Their report cited, among other reasons, the “Unreasonableness of the time frame provided” to implement the legal notice.
This “unreasonableness” points to the fact that there was little consideration of the procedure provided for in the Statutory Instruments Act to carry out public participation and an economic impact assessment.
At the same time, there is the insidious tacit message being relayed to investors that the government can arbitrarily change and effect regulations to the detriment of businesses and the nation’s socio-economic stability. There are valid environmental concerns on waste disposal and the end goal is to ensure we have a clean and sustainable environment for all.
This endeavour to make lives better for future generations that has us determined to clean up our environment, is the same that drives us to advocate for a favourable business environment that nurtures local industry and attracts investment.
They are two sides of the same coin and one should not be pitted against the other. A green economy needs both aspects working together to achieve a sustainable economy and, broad-based inclusive growth.
Creating a scenario which depicts the need for predictability and the adherence of the rule of law for business, as going against the need for a clean environment is simplistic and distracts us from the very complex issues that have led to our dependence on plastic bags, lack of proper waste management and an increasingly callous consumer culture towards environmental conservation.
Other countries have made this endeavour work through phased approaches that take into consideration the views of different stakeholders. In its first step to implement the ban on plastic bags, Rwanda acknowledged that as a country it did not have any facilities to manage plastic waste and, therefore, went ahead to provide tax incentives to local manufacturers to start recycling the plastic waste.
The tax incentives were meant to enable local companies to buy equipment that would help recycle plastics. In recognising the contribution of local businesses to effecting the ban, Rwanda fused the need for a clean environment, with the need to nurture and sustain local industry, to achieve its end goal.
However, Rwanda is struggling with a growing black market for plastic bags because alternatives provided did not meet the needs.
However, there are also instances in which the ban has not worked as envisioned. A good example is Austin in Texas, US. In 2013, Austin outlawed single-use plastic bags and two years later an investigation into the effectiveness of the regulation showed the city was worse off environmentally.
This is because officials discovered that the plastic bag had a much lower carbon footprint than that of paper and cotton alternatives. The reusable bags were equally harmful to the environment as they were made from nonrecycled, low density polyethylene which has a very high carbon footprint compared to the single use bag.
So far, since the gazettement of the plastic ban, there have been at least four different notices from Nema and the Environment ministry, with contradictory statements in an effort to make exemptions and even issuing new directives only days to the date the ban should take effect.
The ban has also gone beyond single use plastics bags and touches industrial plastics thus creating uncertainty in industry with industrial users having to seek exemption from Nema to use industrial packaging. This uncertainty, lack of clarity and unpredictability is part of the arbitrariness that we are witnessing in the execution of a policy, which, Parliament said did not even comply with existing law.
Everyone’s right to exist and earn a living is enshrined in the Constitution, that includes the rights of Mama Mboga to run her kiosk, as well as that of businesses to secure investments. Circumventing it, to reach one goal at the expense of the other should be discouraged.
The writer is the CEO Kenya Association of Manufacturers —[email protected] kam.co.ke.