Plastics are at the core of solid waste management problems of today’s society. Plastics in modern life are a preferred product for everyday applications from piping, bottling, packaging etc. However, as useful as society has deems plastics to be, this has eventually ended in a huge menace due to their non-biodegradable nature. Plastics bags in particular have been a sore thumb worldwide. Plastic bags we use in our everyday life can take 10-1000 years to breakdown. While ideally plastic bags should be reused a multiple of times, most are only durable for single use. The improper disposal of these bags have seen them end up strewn all over the streets, piled up in landfills and in the worst case eventually end up in water bodies where they affect organisms.
Countries across the globe have come up with inventive ways to control and minimize the use of plastic bags. Some have imposed a total ban while others levy extra charges or a recycling fee for their use. In March 2017, Kenya joined the bandwagon in banning of the production and use of plastic bags due to their high susceptibility to littering and their unsustainability for recycling. Once this ban takes effect from August 2017, it will see Kenya become the second country in Africa to completely do away with disposable plastic bags. Kenya has in the past tried unsuccessfully to ban polythene bags twice in 2007 and 2011.The biggest challenge to this initiative is the notion that this move will cost thousands of jobs. However, with appropriate strategies in place, this ban has the potential of sparking ideas for alternatives to plastics and provides immense benefits to the natural environment and ecosystems.
Tourism as an industry also contributes in part to the scourge of plastic bags in Kenya. Plastic bags from the tourism accommodation facilities usually result from packaging and bags for holding other solid wastes. The tourists themselves may exacerbate the situation by littering both on land and in marine environments. The location of most tourism facilities is in fragile natural ecosystems, and as such demands proper management of solid waste, and this includes plastic bags. Improperly disposed of plastic bags they end up as litter on countryside and beaches where they are particularly noticeable and unsightly.
Besides decreasing aesthetic value in these pristine areas, plastic waste could have multiple negative impacts on wildlife. Plastic bags could alter feeding patterns, breeding grounds and eating habits of wildlife. Plastic bags are of major concern in the marine and other aquatic environments. Aquatic life can be threatened through entanglement, suffocation and ingestion. Sea turtles, dolphins, whales and other marine species often mistake the plastic bags for jelly fish and end up choking. The open burning of plastic bags can also be detrimental to human health. When plastic bags burn, they release a highly toxic chemical called dioxin. Scientists have linked dioxins to cancer and can affect the immune system.
The Ecotourism Kenya’s Eco-rating Certification Standard has a criterion that specifically addresses solid waste management. Plastic bags fall into this category. The criterion emphasizes on compliance to existing legislation on waste management. It also stipulates presence of an effective solid waste management plan with measures to avoid, reduce/minimize, re-use, and recycle solid waste. In line with the present regulation and the Eco-Rating standard, tourism facilities are called upon to effectively manage their plastic wastes.
Various measures can be employed by tourism accommodation facilities to minimize their dependence on plastic bags. These can include:
- Alternative packaging
Hotels/Camps could explore other packaging options, such as the use of reusable wooden crates to pack their fruits and vegetable supplies. Give away bags from the tourism accommodation facility could also be made from biodegradable material such as, sisal or papyrus.
- Sacks for solid waste handling
As opposed to using plastic bags to hold recyclable solid waste (plastic bottles, glass), facilities could use sacks that are biodegradable.
- Bulk purchases.
Most solid products in Kenya are packaged in plastic bags in quantities ranging from one Kilogram to at most five Kilograms. However, a purchase that is likely to amount to 20 KGs and above come in bulkier packaging materials like gunny sacks. These save up on plastic bag use and entrance to the facility.
- Understanding and separating waste
The first and most important aspect of waste management is learning the various types of waste, their production and disposal. Waste management as a process requires the knowledge of the major categories of waste i.e. food and dry waste. The dry waste could be separated further according to your needs. The key thing is to make sure food waste which is usually wet does not contaminate hence rendering useless the dry waste.