Has Kenya's plastic bag ban worked?

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Two years ago, Kenya introduced a ban on plastic carrier bags.

Has it worked?

Tens of millions of plastic bags were handed out in supermarkets every year in Kenya.

They polluted the environment and clogged up drainage systems contributing to floods in rainy seasons.

A study supported by the National Environmental Management Agency (Nema) found that more than 50% of cattle near urban areas were found to have plastic bags in their stomachs.

So after years of promising to take action, the government made the manufacturing, sale and distribution of plastic carrier bags illegal.

Since the ban, the government says 80% of the population have stopped using plastic carrier bags.

Although this is encouraging, some of the alternatives have also been found to be environmentally damaging.

Anyone found manufacturing, importing or selling a plastic carrier bag could be fined up to $40,000 (£32,000) or face a prison sentence of up to four years. Using the banned bags carries a fine of more than $500 or a jail term of up to a year.

So far, fines of between $500 and $1,500 have been handed out to around 300 people.

Others have been sent to jail, says Keriako Tobiko, Kenya's environment minister.

Last year, 18 people who pleaded guilty in a court in the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa were fined $300 or sentenced to eight months in jail for using the bags.

In other cases, first-time offenders have been let off without punishment.

"It is at the discretion of the courts to decide what penalty they will give. The judge has the discretion depending on the case," Mamo Mamo, the acting director general of Nema, told the BBC.

The toughest penalty imposed so far has been on a manufacturer who was sentenced to a jail term of one year without the option of a fine, according to Mr Mamo.

He says the ban is having a real impact - abattoirs are now finding fewer bags inside cows.

There has also been praise from environmental charities.

"It is good progress if what we see around is anything to go by. Previously, driving from Nairobi to a place like the Masai Mara you would see plastic bags hanging from trees like flowers after being blown away and getting stuck. We don't see them any more," says Nancy Githaiga, WWF Kenya's policy and research manager.


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