Plastic carrier bags have been in use in Kenya for many years and had become a ubiquitous symbol in virtually all aspects of life in the country to the extent that one could not imagine life without them. In supermarkets and other establishments goods were more often than not packed in plastic papers. Billions of these bags are used annually across the globe mainly for shopping because they are deemed to be the best option in terms packaging despite their ecological drawbacks.
Plastic carrier bags were preferred by both retailers and consumers due to various perceived advantages. Manufacturers and traders liked them because, among other things, they were cheap to produce, required less energy to transport and recycle and were also easy to use and store compared to re-usable bags. The bags were also used by supermarkets and other establishments to advertise themselves. Consumers preferred them because of their durability, they do not tear easily, are easy to carry and very useful when it rains or when they come into contact with liquids as they protect their contents from getting wet due to their water-proof nature. Because of their versatility, plastic bags have the additional advantage of being put to multiple uses at home, the office and elsewhere.
There was excess use of the papers such that different items could be packed in different plastic bags even when there was no need to do so. The main challenge with these plastic carrier bags was how to dispose them after use given that many Kenyans are averse to safe and responsible disposal of items that have served their purpose and again the philosophy of recycling is yet to be well established in this country. The result was that the environment was severely chocked with plastic papers that were to be found virtually everywhere: on the streets, storm drains, water surfaces, trees, fences and so on.
The central proposition of this paper is that use of plastic papers had brought large scale environmental degradation that was virtually irreversible and that the ban on use of plastic carrier bags should not only be enforced but enhanced to include other plastic material that are still in use in Kenya yet they are a major contributor to ecosystem destruction. Impacts of the ban and its likely benefits to stakeholders as well as examples of the plastic experience from other countries will also form part of the discussion.