From afar, the dumpsite at Muthurwa market in Kenya’s capital Nairobi looks like a small mountain draped in different colors of clothes.


Non-biodegradable shopping bags

One can pick out yellow, red, black, blue and white colors scattered at the dumpsite where fresh produce traders dispose vegetable, tomato and potato waste, among others, before it is collected by the city authorities.

The blend of colors made by disposed non-woven shopping bags makes the dumpsite appear colorful from far, almost like a rainbow, but it is an ugly and smelly site.

The shopping bags, which are sold at between 5 shilling (0.05 U.S. dollars) and 0.20 dollars were introduced in Kenya following a ban on plastic bags in 2017.

However, the non-woven bags that are believed to be non-biodegradable are posing fresh challenges to Kenyans pollution crisis.

From rural to urban areas, the bags are littering estates, along the roads, rivers and shopping or trading centers, taking Kenya steps back in its quest to curb environmental pollution.

When banning plastic bags, Kenyans were supposed to shift to biodegradable bags that were also reusable to curb pollution.

Citizens were asked to invest in reusable containers, steel or bamboo straws, buy unpackaged food, use degradable or reusable shopping bags made from starch, corn or potatoes to avoid plastic bags.

The east African nation imposed what was termed as the strictest penalty in the world as anyone found with plastic bags commits an offence attracting a fine of between 19,417 dollars and 38,834 dollars, a jail term of between one and two years, or both.

The biodegradable bags were expected to be a panacea to river, lakes, land and ocean pollution as people would recycle them.

But nearly two years down the road, the east African nation seems to have gone full-circle as some of the bags being sold in the market, including in supermarkets, are not biodegradable.

“We have noted that a majority of the bags in the market are of low quality and are not bio-degradable, which means they have little difference with plastic bags,” said Jackline Ameti of the National Environment and Management Authority (Nema), adding that the agency is carrying out inspections to rid-off the bags.

The shopping bags, according to her, contain traces of plastics, making them non-biodegradable, and they do not conform to standards set.

Traders in the capital said they buy the shopping bags from downtown Nairobi or industrial area where new businesses to make them sprouted as soon as plastics were banned.

“I buy them from River Road where a bunch of 100 goes for 4 dollars for the medium-sized and I resale them at 0.10 dollars each. It is good business,” Mary Wanjiku, a trader with a shop on the busy Tom Mboya Street, said on Friday.

Wanjiku noted that she stocks the non-woven bags because they move faster than the canvas biodegradable bags, which consumers shun because they are expensive.

“People buy the non-woven bags because they are affordable and serve the same purpose,” she said, adding that she has no idea that the bags contain plastics and are non-biodegradable.

As many other traders selling the shopping bags across the country, she acknowledged that the bags are polluting the environment but blamed it on poor disposal by consumers.

“Once I sell the bags, it is upon the consumers to take care of them and ensure they dispose them at the right place but many don’t do it,” she said.

Consumers, however, noted that the bags have become a menace because of poor quality that makes them unrecyclable as they get torn at the first use, making people dispose them.

Nema has, however, moved to stem the situation by asking supermarkets, the biggest sources of shopping bags, to stop stocking the non-woven bags. Enditem