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The nature of the global supply and plastic value chains continues to pose a challenge of plastic pollution is transboundary and global in scope. The historic move by UNEA 5 of adopting to pave way for establishment of a global treaty by 2024, indicates the gravity of plastic pollution globally.

 Single-use plastic items, including plastic bags, have been contributing to several environmental challenges including blocking of water channels and the prevention of water from seeping into the soils, thus causing soil and land degradation which ultimately affects the agricultural sector in Kenya

To combat the indiscriminate use of single-use plastic items in the form of carrier bags, countries in the East African Community (EAC) have taken individual efforts to introduce regulations banning the manufacture, importation/exportation, and consumption of plastic carrier bags. However, lack of regional and international collaboration has made it difficult to enforce the fight against single-use plastic carrier bags with porous borders and uncooperative regulatory agencies.

Rwanda began its efforts in 2008 and has had the most successful outcome within the EAC. Followed by Kenya, where regulations against single-use plastic bags were introduced in 2017 and later by Tanzania in 2019. Although Uganda had announced its bans on single-use plastic bags on several occasions (2007, 2009, 2015, 2018 and 2021), implementation is still lagging the   three EAC countries.

In 2017, by the time Kenya introduced the ban bags could be seen everywhere hanging on trees, in the air, in landfills, in our farms and in our drainage systems.

The plastic industry was by then distributing approximately 100 million plastic shopping bags every month to supermarkets, which contributed immensely to pollution on land and water sources. 

Later in June 2020, the President gave a directive to ban the use of all single-use plastics in protected areas. This move was a milestone for it indicated that the Kenyan authorities were progressive in tackling the plastics challenge

Five years later, despite the strict ban on the manufacture, trade-in and use of single-use plastic bags as well as the hefty fines and imprisonment, plastic bags are still easily found in the Kenya.

An investigative study conducted by 4 environmental organizations in the East African Community (CEJAD, NIPE FAGIO BIVA and GER) on illegal trade and smuggling of plastic in East Africa Community shows that plastic bans have created spaces for cross-border smuggling of these plastic bags.

According to the study by Center for Environment Justice and Development, smuggling of single-use plastic bags is rampant at entry points largely from Uganda and Tanzanian ports bordering Kenya.

The investigation shows that plastic bags are imported and distributed into Tanzania  primarily from Uganda with some bags are locally manufactured for export purposes. In Uganda, despite the ban against the manufacture, trade and use of single-use plastic bags continues to exist across the country.

Majority of single-use plastic bags remain unbranded which hinders them from being traced back to the manufacturers.

To effectively control the illegal trade, government must enhance efficiency of the human resource manning the porous borders across the EAC entry points. Additionally, more vigilant searches on the border points should be conducted. With the culprits made to pay heavily for their disregard to the laws put in place against the trade in single-use plastic bags.

 NEMA must remain vigilant in fishing out the illegal smugglers and address this scaling crisis before it becomes irreversible as it was before the 2017 ban.

National bans alone are insufficient in controlling the illicit trade in single-use plastic bags. No country can control the transboundary effects of plastic pollution alone, therefore regional and international cooperation is key.

The time to act is now! End single-use plastic in Kenya


Patricia Kombo


Cejad Kenya and IPEN Africa communications adviser

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