Kenya imposes world's toughest law against plastic bags

NAIROBI, Aug 28 (Reuters) - Kenyans producing, selling or even using plastic bags will risk imprisonment of up to four years or fines of $40,000 from Monday, as the world's toughest law aimed at reducing plastic pollution came into effect.

The East African nation joins more than 40 other countries that have banned, partly banned or taxed single use plastic bags, including China, France, Rwanda, and Italy.

SEE ALSO: In Ireland, summer goes on rain or shine

Many bags drift into the ocean, strangling turtles, suffocating seabirds and filling the stomachs of dolphins and whales with waste until they die of starvation.

"If we continue like this, by 2050, we will have more plastic in the ocean than fish," said Habib El-Habr, an expert on marine litter working with the U.N. Environment Programme in Kenya.

14 PHOTOS
Kenya imposes world's harshest plastic law
See Gallery
Kenya imposes world's harshest plastic law
Pigs graze through waste at the Ngong town dumping site, 30 kilometres southwest of Nairobi, on August 24, 2017. A ban on plastic bags came into force in Kenya on August 28, 217 in a bid to slow pollution, with offenders liable to jail time or hefty fines. The ban on the use, manufacture and importation of plastic carrier bags was carried through after the High Court threw out a challenge brought by importers who claim jobs will be lost and livelihoods threatened. In Kenya, road verges are commonly covered with discarded plastic bags and trees festooned with them, they block drains and are ingested by animals, including livestock such as cows and goats. / AFP PHOTO / SIMON MAINA (Photo credit should read SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images)
A cow grazes next to plastic bags at the August 24, 2017 at the Ngong town dumping site, 30 kilometres southwest of Nairobi. On August 28, Kenya will enforce a ban on the manufacture, supply and use of plastic bags that in the absence of an effective recycling culture has risen to become a major polutant. / AFP PHOTO / SIMON MAINA (Photo credit should read SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images)
A cow walks near a pile of trash including plastic bags as it grazes in Nairobi, Kenya August 25, 2017. Picture taken August 25, 2017.REUTERS/Baz Ratner
A cow rests on within recyclable plastic materials at the Dandora dumping site on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya August 25, 2017. Picture taken August 25, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya
Marabou storks stand on a pile of recyclable plastic materials at the Dandora dumping site on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya August 25, 2017. Picture taken August 25, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya
A scavenger sorts recyclable plastic materials at the Dandora dumping site on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya August 25, 2017. Picture taken August 25, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya
An employee removes plastic bags found in cows' stomachs at a slaughterhouse near Nairobi, Kenya August 25, 2017. Picture taken August 25, 2017.REUTERS/Baz Ratner
A scavenger carries recyclable plastic materials packed in a sack at the Dandora dumping site on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya August 25, 2017. Picture taken August 25, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya
A man watches cattle at a slaughterhouse near Nairobi, Kenya August 25, 2017. Picture taken August 25, 2017.REUTERS/Baz Ratner
A man carrying used plastic containers which he will sell walks across the Ngong town dumping site, some 30 kilometres southwest of Nairobi on August 24, 2017. A ban on plastic bags came into force in Kenya on August 28, 217 in a bid to slow pollution, with offenders liable to jail time or hefty fines. The ban on the use, manufacture and importation of plastic carrier bags was carried through after the High Court threw out a challenge brought by importers who claim jobs will be lost and livelihoods threatened. In Kenya, road verges are commonly covered with discarded plastic bags and trees festooned with them, they block drains and are ingested by animals, including livestock such as cows and goats. / AFP PHOTO / SIMON MAINA (Photo credit should read SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images)
Women work at the Ngong town dumping site, 30 kilometres southwest of Nairobi, on August 24, 2017 A ban on plastic bags came into force in Kenya on August 28, 217 in a bid to slow pollution, with offenders liable to jail time or hefty fines. The ban on the use, manufacture and importation of plastic carrier bags was carried through after the High Court threw out a challenge brought by importers who claim jobs will be lost and livelihoods threatened. In Kenya, road verges are commonly covered with discarded plastic bags and trees festooned with them, they block drains and are ingested by animals, including livestock such as cows and goats. / AFP PHOTO / SIMON MAINA (Photo credit should read SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images)
Marabou storks stand on a pile of recyclable plastic materials at the Dandora dumping site on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya August 25, 2017. Picture taken August 25, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya
Livestock scavenge for pasture within recyclable plastic materials at the Dandora dumping site on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya August 25, 2017. Picture taken August 25, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Plastic bags, which El-Habr says take between 500 to 1,000 years to break down, also enter the human food chain through fish and other animals. In Nairobi's slaughterhouses, some cows destined for human consumption had 20 bags removed from their stomachs.

"This is something we didn't get ten years ago but now its almost on a daily basis," said county vet Mbuthi Kinyanjui as he watched men in bloodied white uniforms scoop sodden plastic bags from the stomachs of cow carcases.

Kenya's law allows police to go after anyone even carrying a plastic bag. But Judy Wakhungu, Kenya's environment minister, said enforcement would initially be directed at manufacturers and suppliers.

"Ordinary wananchi will not be harmed," she told Reuters, using a Kiswahili word for "common man."

It took Kenya three attempts over ten years to finally pass the ban, and not everyone is a fan.

Samuel Matonda, spokesman for the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, said it would cost 60,000 jobs and force 176 manufacturers to close. Kenya is a major exporter of plastic bags to the region.

"The knock-on effects will be very severe," Matonda said.

"It will even affect the women who sell vegetables in the market - how will their customers carry their shopping home?"

Big Kenyan supermarket chains like France's Carrefour and Nakumatt have already started offering customers cloth bags as alternatives.

More from AOL.com:
Venezuela's injured activists struggle to heal
In Japan, robot-for-hire programmed to perform Buddhist funeral rites
Orphaned by war, wild donkeys make a comeback in Cyprus

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.