No more Plastic Garbage Bags as NEMA Issues 90-Day Segregation of Waste Notice

You are currently viewing No more Plastic Garbage Bags as NEMA Issues 90-Day Segregation of Waste Notice

In a public notice dated 8th April 2024 but released to the public on this year’s Earth Day, the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) announced a prohibition on the use of plastic bags for the collection and disposal of waste in Kenya. In this directive, Kenyans have been given 90 days from the date of the notice to discontinue the use of these plastic bags. 

In the public notice NEMA directs, “All organic waste generated by households, private sector and public sector institutions, private and public functions and events; shall strictly be segregated and placed in 100% biodegradable garbage bags/bin liners only.”

This decision comes seven years after the Kenyan government enforced a ban on the manufacture, importation, and use of plastic carrier bags for commercial and household packaging. The initial ban in 2017 was implemented by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources but garbage liners were exempted from this ban. When exempting these liners, NEMA required that these be used once and returned to manufacturers for recycling even though many environmentalists questioned the practicality of this. There is no evidence that these plastic bin liners have ever been returned to the manufacturers for recycling for the last seven years. With government statistics showing that Kenya has around 7 million urban households, these liners have contributed tremendously to plastic pollution as they are issued every week to households and establishments by Waste Service Providers.

There will be those who will see the NEMA directive as being impractical to require the use of biodegradable bin liners. While biodegradable liners do indeed exists, these are mostly made from natural materials such as paper and it will be ‘messy’ to work with these since waste is often collected once a week and often wet in most urban centers. A solution to this is to change how organic waste in transported in the country. One idea is to require the transportation be done in drums, large bins or specialized trucks. In informal, semi-informal settlements and even for most apartments for example, each ‘plot’ can have common drums / bins, where households and establishments empty their organic waste and these are replaced every week or whenever they are full by the Waste Service Providers. The service providers can then transport this waste in the drums / bins or empty in specially designed garbage transport trucks.

On segregation, it will be interesting to observe the rate of compliance in coming months and what strategy the environment agency has in place to ensure adherence and drive awareness on this important development. This is particularly important since this is not the first time Kenya has introduced mandates on segregation of waste at source. For example, the Solid Waste Management Act of 2015 for Nairobi County requires every household to have several waste bins, i.e, for plastics, metals, paper, organic, and other waste. However, this law has hardly been enforced, which means that almost all waste generated at households and establishments in Nairobi is collected as mixed waste and then transported to the main dumpsite, which is not designed for efficient resource recovery.

This brings us to the second problem with the directive, which is that of Material Recovery Facilities. In the NEMA notice, this directs that the organic waste should be transported to a designated Material Recovery Facility in each county for further processing. This is a huge problem since such infrastructure is largely non-existent countrywide. One would think this is something that NEMA would be aware of when releasing this public notice. What this means is come June, the Service Waste Providers will have nowhere to transport the organic waste but to the existing commissioned dumpsites. In a public forum, a senior NEMA official is on record as advising that the dumpsites should be ‘segregated’ as well, having one section designated for organic waste processing. Never mind almost all the dumpsites in the country are deemed full and have many problems including being easily accessible to children or are installed in very poor communities raising issues of health impacts and human rights. Dandora dumpsite in Nairobi is even worse. Receiving over 2000 tonnes of waste everyday, it is also located on the bank of Nairobi River, contributing tremendously to the river pollution. And that’s not all, it directly negatively impacts over 1 million people who live near or around it. For over two decade, there have been proposals to either move it or convert it into a waste to energy facility without much progress.

Despite these challenges, this NEMA directive points in the right direction and is a significant step towards sustainable waste management. As the 90-day period progresses, it will be interesting to see the changes this directive will bring about in waste management practices across Kenya.

NEMA public notice

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Betterman Simidi Musasia

Founder & Patron, Former CEO, Clean Up Kenya

Betterman is a sustainable public sanitation advocate and a pollution control evangelist. In 2015, after becoming extremely tired of seeing all the trash in Kenyan neighborhoods and hearing the authorities fake promises to clear the mess, he sold his trucking business to establish Clean Up Kenya. Today, the organization is a leading national sustainable public sanitation advocacy brand. In September 2020, he stepped down as Clean Up Kenya Chief Executive Officer and currently serves as Founder and Patron.