KENYA: organic waste will soon be collected using biodegradable bags

02 05 2024 | 07:46Ines Magoum, Afrik21

From 8 July 2024, organic waste, including food scraps, will have to be collected using 100% biodegradable bin bags in Kenya, rather than plastic bags. This is a directive issued on 8 April 2024 by the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) to reduce plastic pollution in the East African country.

Are we moving towards the disappearance of plastic bags in Kenya? That’s the hope of the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), which recently announced a government measure banning the use of plastic bags for the collection of organic waste in the East African country. This includes kitchen waste (food scraps, peelings, coffee grounds, paper filters, bread, dairy products, cheese rinds, vegetable tops, decomposed fruit and vegetables), garden waste (lawn clippings, leaves, hedge trimmings, dead flowers) and even household waste (tissues, paper towels, wood ashes, sawdust, shavings, newspaper, house plants, etc.).

To replace plastic, NEMA recommends the use of 100% biodegradable bin liners. “All county governments and private waste management service providers approved by NEMA are required to provide their customers with 100% biodegradable bin liners”, reads the Kenyan government body’s press release.

Waste that is sorted and collected must be transported to a dedicated treatment facility. By banning the use of plastic bin bags, the aim is to reduce the plastic pollution that is gaining ground in Kenya. The country of nearly 56 million people produces 480 tonnes of plastic waste a day, or 20% of the 2,400 tonnes of waste generated every day, according to a 2021 report by the World Bank. This is despite a 2017 law banning single-use plastic bags for domestic and commercial use.

An incomplete measure, according to Greenpeace

Households, the private and public sectors, religious institutions and event organisers have 90 days to comply with the new directive, i.e. from the date of publication of the Nema press release on 8 April 2024.

“While we applaud the Kenyan government for its decisive actions, starting with the ban on plastic carrier bags in 2017 and now with the mandatory use of biodegradable rubbish bags for organic waste collection, we call for greater ambition in moving towards a zero waste and plastic free future. Kenya should prioritise reusable models and ensure that all biodegradable alternatives are safe and truly contribute to a circular economy, and continue to be a continental leader in tackling the plastic crisis,” said Gerance Mutwol, Greenpeace Africa’s plastics campaigner, in an article published on this news item by the environmental NGO on 22 April 2024.

Gerance Mutwol also insisted that biodegradable alternatives were only a temporary step, and called for greater emphasis to be placed on investing in reusable collection systems. He also asked for clarification on the composition of the replacement bin liners ordered. “It is essential that we take a close look at these ‘biodegradable’ materials. The term ‘biodegradable’ often encompasses a wide range of materials with varying environmental impacts. We therefore urge the Kenyan government to provide detailed information on the composition and biodegradability of these bags to ensure that they really do minimise the impact on the environment”.

And as the 4th session of negotiations to end plastic pollution continues, opening on 23 April 2024 in Ottawa, Canada, Greenpeace Africa has taken the opportunity to call for a treaty that prioritises the reduction of plastic production and adopts solutions such as refill and reuse systems to minimise the use and production of single-use plastics. The content of this global treaty should be clear by the end of the Ottawa negotiations on 28 April.