How the Underworld Plastic Bags Business in Kenya is Still thriving


On 28th August 2017, the government of Kenya banned the use of plastic bags without a trademark. Many if hailed the move aimed at reducing the impact of pollution in the environment, deaths of animals, and not all. In fact, over 50% of the livestock slaughtered in Nairobi’s abattoirs in 2018 had plastic bags in their rumens. Fortunately, the ban creates one of the effective ways to boost fish farming in East Africa.

Since then, there have been over 500 arrests and 300 prosecutions to date, according to the National Environmental Management Authority. Nevertheless, the business is far from extinction. Loads of locals still use the paper carriers despite the government’s clear directive allowing only companies with trademarks. Below is how Kenyans and foreigners engage in the illegal business without the government noticing or being able to make arrests.

Source of the illegal plastic bags

One of the primary sources of the illegal plastic bags is in Kariobangi lite Industries. As it is, the area homes tons of small manufacturing companies that often don’t have licenses. Due to this, it is easy to manufacture the legal carriers as well as the illegal ones. Nevertheless, dubious manufacturers and merchants of these bags admit that the business is risky. Anyone caught selling is slapped with a fine of between $500 and $40,000, or a jail term of up to four years.

The other known source of the carrier bags is the neighboring country of Uganda. Thanks to the free trade area in the East African region, Kenyan and Ugandan traders have the freedom of smuggling the illegal plastic bags easily.

According to a local private investigation report from Citizen TV’s Patrick Igunza, little or no inspections take place at the border points.  In the report dubbed ‘PLASTICS WITHOUT BORDERS,’ the journalist, alongside his colleague managed to smuggle two bales of the illegal bags using a public transport bus coming into Kenya.

Similarly, there are a bunch of unmanned entry points which traders use to cross the bags into Kenya. Over the past months, tons of consignments have been seized in different places in Eldoret en route to Nairobi.

Markets of the carriers

While a majority of Kenyans toe the line and use the woven or fabric-based carrier bags, some manufacturers continue to make low-quality bags. Still, the supply remains low due to the limitations of the availability of raw materials domestically. Most users claim the bags are the only option to packaging some goods, despite the prices being higher than before the ban.

For example, In Gikomba Market where the secondhand clothes business is a boom in Kenya, the plastic bags circulate secretly. The most rampant buyers of the illegal plastic bags are the groceries and fruits vendors, butcheries, and some clothes merchants.

In the same vein, some fast-food vendors often manage to buy branded plastic bags from licensed companies. It’s not clear whether the branded bags reach the market in accordance with the set rules. But, it is undoubtedly that the business is illegal since it often takes place with a lot of secrecy and at night.

The solution of the underworld plastic bags business

As it is, the government of Kenya seems to have dropped the ball somewhere along the way. It needs to come up with better policies and enforce the ban entirely. Currently, some snippets are hindering the 100% transition. For example, giving room for some companies to use plastic bags makes the situation unmanageable. Some rogue employees steal the carriers meant for industrial use and end up selling them to third parties.

Again, the government needs to offer subsidies to entrepreneurs seeking to venture into the manufacturing of woven and fabric bags. Achieving this will make the recommended carriers available and affordable, hence squeezing out the need to use illegal plastic bags.


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