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Question: Plastic pollution has become a major global problem; what is NEMA doing to address the problem in Kenya?

Answer: Plastic bags have been a major problem for Kenya. As a country, we used to generate over a million plastic bags, most so flimsy that they could only be used once. They would then be thrown away and end up polluting the environment. Solid waste management has become a big issue in Kenya and counties are grappling with the problem.

Although waste management is a devolved function, NEMA provides technical support to county governments. We have gazetted 86 environmental inspectors to support counties to effectively enforce and monitor waste management. We have also engaged in public education through local radio stations as well as using County Directors of Environment during occasions like the World Environment Day, World Wetlands Day, etc. At the national level, as DG, I have appeared in national media and on panels of eminent persons.

We are also working with regulators such as the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) to help monitor compliance with the plastic bag ban and smuggling through the borders. We work with the regulatory agencies to control illegal border smuggling of plastic bags. NEMA has posted officers to border posts such as Malaba, Moyale and Busia. The officers work closely with regulators such as KRA in joint operations to monitor compliance.

NEMA is also relying on scientific approaches from the United Nations Environment Programme to help inform policy. Most importantly, the Authority has reported increased levels of compliance with the ban.

The public has changed its attitude towards plastic bags and their usage in relation to the environment. Moreover, there has been visible cleanliness in towns that used to be dotted with plastic carrier bags, hanging loosely on buildings and trees. We carry out continuous monitoring of the ban and I can say that [as a country] we are at 90 per cent compliance with the plastic ban. We are working on the 10 per cent. The current challenge is PET [polyethylene terephthalate] bottles, but the Ministry of Environment and Forestry is working with the Kenya Association of Manufacturers to come up with and implement Extended Producer Responsibilities (EPR) regulations to address that problem as well.

Q: Has the 2017 ban on plastic carrier bags helped in dealing with the plastic crisis?

A: The 2017 plastic ban to deal with solid waste was one of the best things to ever happen in this country. Following a decade of engagement with the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, we felt that it was the right time to ban plastic bags. Plastic bags caused a lot of problems to the environment, majorly due to the throw-away culture of Kenyans. The Authority felt the need to do something to ensure that a clean environment was safeguarded. The right to a clean and healthy environment is recognised and protected under Article 42 of the Constitution.

Kenya became one of the few countries to ban plastic bags globally, acting as a benchmark to the world and especially for our neighbours in East Africa. NEMA has taken major steps to deal with the plastic crisis, including surveillance and enforcement. It is however a challenge to enforce the ban in the informal areas. A number of manufacturers have relocated to border towns from where they sneak back the plastic bags. To counter these problems, public sensitisation, especially in the informal areas, has been enhanced through the provincial administration.

NEMA is encouraging the public to segregate waste seeing as 60 per cent of the waste from households is organic.

Q: You have talked about the plastic bags. What about the polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles?

A: From where NEMA sits, it is better to invest in recycling to help create jobs and move to a circular economy. We are working on a framework of cooperation between NEMA, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry and the Kenya Association of Manufacturers to have the industry invest in take-back schemes and EPR. We are organising recyclers into an association so that they are registered with NEMA. They will be involved in clean-up activities and awareness creation through media. They will also be engaging with us and the Ministry in managing PET bottles in the environment. We have recently seen the Takataka Solutions group installing bins for the sorting of waste in malls, supermarkets and public places. PET Recycling Company [PETCO] is organising this with recyclers.

Q: The banned carrier bags are back in the Kenyan market and are being openly dispensed by traders especially in downtown Nairobi, in markets and residential areas. What is hindering enforcement of the ban?

A: One of the challenges we have is that NEMA has very few inspectors and we are limited in capacity to carry out enforcement of the ban effectively. Once it took effect, the ban prompted the creation of “bag cartels” that smuggled illegal plastic bags from Uganda and Tanzania. However, the government is obliged to ensure that the plastic ban is a success in Kenya.

We are mitigating this challenge by bringing on board more inspectors. For example, in Nairobi we are working with the Nairobi Metropolitan Services on the enforcement of the ban. Recently, NEMA got more police officers. We now have 20 police officers at the headquarters. We wrote to the Inspector General of Police asking for police officers to support NEMA in enforcing the law. The IG wrote to Police Commanders in all the counties to have officers support NEMA.

Q: There have been reports about plans to export plastic waste to Kenya from where it can be distributed to other Africa countries. What is NEMA’s position on the issue?

A: Kenya has made great strides and it will be unfortunate if we are to be arm-twisted. NEMA will oppose this and we will ensure that we get rid of plastics in Kenya.

Q: When are the plastic packaging regulations likely to be passed and implemented?

A: NEMA has captured key issues brought out during consultative forums with the public and other stakeholders. The Attorney General also had his input and, once gazetted, there is going to be a good legal framework for implementing the plastic packaging ban.

Q: The draft plastic packaging regulations have Extended Producer Responsibilities (EPR) provisions and the draft national EPR regulations also cover plastics. Won’t this create a conflict? How can it be resolved?

A: No. The plastic packaging regulations will look at the larger framework of the ban. EPR is going to look at the implementation of the framework, having constitutional back-up in implementing Article 42 which stipulates that each and every citizen has the right to live in a clean and safe environment.

Q: The Basel Convention and Plastic Ban amendments are now in force. How is Kenya/NEMA preparing to implement/domesticate them?

A: NEMA is implementing the Basel Convention under Multilateral Environmental Agreements giving permits for the movement of hazardous waste across the borders. We give prior informed consent once our officers get requests and ensure compliance with the provisions of the Convention. For example, last year we received a number of Prior Informed Consent (PIC) on hazardous waste coming from Nordic countries and responded appropriately. Finally, the Environmental Management and Coordination Act is under review and we have received inputs from stakeholders. We are engaging members of parliament to get their sentiments.