Black markets for plastic bags are emerging to be the new cash cows that will rival drugs, guns and ivory

Two of my friends, Ephraim Njenga and Kennedy Kachwanya, have been very vocal opponents of the ban on plastic bags. According to them, the ban was carried out before an all inclusive stakeholder consultation was done. Specifically, Ephraim Njenga has termed the ban as a simplistic approach to a complex problem that needs a well thought out solution; a solution that will not only cure the environmental menace caused by plastic bags, but will also create jobs. For example in a recent Facebook post he wrote, “Our problem is lack of solid waste management systems. Plastic is just an excuse. Through reverse distribution plastics can be withdrawn from the environment and recycled thereby creating many jobs.”

I on the other hand have been a proponent of the plastic ban. In as much as Ephraim Njega equates the ban to “curing headache by chopping off the head”, I want to think of the ban as getting rid of malaria by killing all Anopheles mosquitoes. My support for the ban is founded on two grounds: 1. based on the fact that developed countries such as UK that have implemented reverse distribution have managed to achieve a meager 24% success rate (it is worse in US where they have a paltry 9% success rate), and 2. As long as plastic find its way into this world, ultimately it will end up in the environment. This is because the lifespan of a simple plastic is upwards of 400 years, with some degrading a millenia later. That is, recycling of plastic wastes does not remove them from the environment, but only postpones their time for harming the environment.

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Even though I am in support of plastic ban, an important variable in plastic use that was somehow overlooked is now rearing its ugly head – the emergence of plastic black market. As is the case with all illegal/illicit and/or highly regulated products such as drugs, guns, ivory, and sugar, plastics have now become one of the products that will allow a few individuals to become drug plastic lords. These are the individuals who are already arranging for illegal importation of plastics from neighboring countries such as Tanzania and Uganda.

If you do not believe me then visit any market place in any major town in the country where traders do not shy away from wrapping commodities with the banned plastics and they do so in broad daylight. In the highways, those selling sugar cane still sell them in the transparent jualas and they do not give a damn whether the person they are selling to could be working for NEMA.

The traders who do not mind being fined the Kshs 4 million if caught wrapping in plastic bags get their plastics from black markets at the borders. This is a according to Business Daily that reported of how “Smugglers at Kenya’s border points have been enjoying an unlikely black market boom trading in the illegal plastic bags”, a fact that has been acknowledged by NEMA officials who said that they “have information that some of the plastic bags are basically coming from neighbouring countries through the border points”.

Following the footsteps of the other failed government agencies like EACC, the anti-poaching units, and NACADA, NEMA is now promising to “hunt”, “pounce”, and “deal firmly” with anyone involved in the illegal trade. But we all know how nothing will be done to anyone who emerges as a real big fish in the emerging plastic black market. As time progress and those involved in the plastic trade continue mincing millions, a dozen or so billionaires will emerge and these people will entrench the plastic black market to rival poaching, drugs, and guns.

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I really do wish that NEMA is very serious on cracking the whip on those involved in the plastic black market, but what they need to do is to completely eliminate the demand for plastics in the country. As long as there will be those willing to use plastics to wrap and carry products, there will never be shortage of supply; and to effectively deal with the demand problem, NEMA must move fast and offer viable free alternatives to those plastics they have banned.

Odipo Riaga
Managing Editor at KachTech Media
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