As a university student attending class, 37-year-old Wakibia passed a harmful landfill in Nakuru, Kenya’s fourth largest urban area. The stench and plastic waste that was spilled into the street, he said, and urged him to act.
He began campaigning for the ban mainly on social media, and his plea soon caught on in a plastic-flooded country. Bags were everywhere – in the air, clinging to trees, clogged waterways and causing flooding.
With strong public support, a ban on plastic bags that have teeth went into effect in 2017: anyone who breaks the law could face jail time. That year, the government subsequently banned other types of single-use plastic, including bottles and straws, in national parks and other protected areas.
“We did something,” said Wakibia of the bag ban. “But we shouldn’t stop because there is so much pollution going on.”
Kenya isn’t the only country taking action to contain plastics. A recent United Nations report counted 127 countries with guidelines on their books to regulate or limit use.
In response, the industry has tried to address the plastics problem. The Plastic Ending Alliance, formed by oil giants like Exxon Mobil and Chevron, and chemical companies like Dow, pledged $ 1.5 billion to fight plastic pollution last year. Critics point out that this number is only a small fraction of what the industry has invested in plastics infrastructure.
Manufacturers “say they will look at plastic waste, but we say plastic itself is the problem,” Ochieng said. “We simply cannot deal with an exponential growth in plastics production.”