“£30,000 ($40,000) fines and up to four years behind bars are threatened to those producing, selling or even using single-use plastic bags.”
Kenya has introduced a new law designed to cut the use of single-use plastic bags that are somewhat more punitive than the United Kingdom’s 5p minimum charge – with fines and jail time both possible. Kenya has joined more than 40 nations worldwide attempting to drastically reduce the number of bags in circulation, but the east African country’s approach is by some distance the most aggressive: £30,000 ($40,000) fines and up to four years behind bars are threatened to those producing, selling or even using single-use plastic bags.
Mauritania, Rwanda and Eritrea have also outlawed the use of plastic bags; Kenya’s law is its third attempt and has been passed as the country looks to protect the millions of livestock, which roam free in large parts of the country, from ingesting them.
Causing a huge impact in the oceans as well as on land, plastic bags can take up hundreds of years to biodegrade and go on to kill at least one million fish a year, according to the UN Environment Programme. It also reported that Kenyan shoppers go through 100m bags in the same period, suggesting a fondness for them that may be hard to shake. With a coastline more than 340-miles long, the effect on sea life was also a key motivator for the action, due to dolphins, whales and other animals at risk of suffocation.
In Europe, the UK government has done its bit to stem the flow of plastic bags into landfill, waterways and the ocean with a 5p charge for all single-use plastic bags sold in England. However, the charge only needs to be observed by stores that employ fewer than 250 staff, meaning that most independently-run shops aren’t required by law to participate. North of The Border, Scotland introduced a levy on bags a year earlier than England that included bags sold by all retailers regardless of size, also covering paper and bio-based bags – varieties that are exempt in England.
Tesco hit the news this month when the retailer announced it would no longer be selling 5p single-use bags, opting instead to only have 10p ‘bags for life’ that can be exchanged for free at any of its stores whenever they need replacing. Last year it was reported that UK’s plastic bag scheme has cut plastic bag use by around 80% since being rolled out, but there have been some critics of the scheme concerning where the profits of the bags end up. When it launched the bag law, the government requested that profits from their sale are given to charitable causes, but there is currently no legal requirement to do this.
From last year shoppers in France were stopped from receiving single-use plastic bags, when it became one of the first European countries to take concrete measures on single-use carrier bags in favour of bio-based and compostable varieties to comply with European Directives. An estimated 100 billion single-use plastic bags are used every year in Europe.