Today June 5th Kenya joins the rest of the world to mark the World Environment Day but uniquely so, the ban on single-use plastics (SUPs) in protected areas comes into effect!
As responsible tourism operators, members of Ecotourism Kenya were not taken by surprise by the announcement of the SUP ban one year ago by HE President Uhuru Kenyatta while he was addressing the plenary session of the Women Deliver 2019 Conference in Vancouver, Canada. To ensure enforceability of the announcement, the Cabinet Secretary Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife Najib Balala through a gazette notice gave the industry up to 5th June 2020 to prepare for the implementation of the ban. As leaders in responsible tourism practices, our members have been practicing the 3Rs of sustainability with measures to monitor and reduce all forms of waste generated at their facilities. Responsible tourism calls for commitment in promoting best practices that are good for the environment, good for business and good for the welfare of the local people.
The adverse effect of poor management and disposal of single-use plastics on the environment is not in question. In recent years, there has been a global effort to come up with alternatives so as to minimize these impacts. Perhaps the three most important questions that tourism businesses are confronted with include: which single-use plastics have been listed in the ban? What are these negative impacts? And what are the alternatives to single-use plastics that business can adopt for use in their operations. This week we will provide answers to these questions and highlight measures taken by Eco-Certified accommodation facilities in Kenya, as a showcase for best practices and to provide sustainability knowledge and inspiration to other tourism businesses who need to comply with the ban.
Query one: Which Single-use plastics have been listed in the ban?
The Kenyan government through the Ministry of Environment and Forestry has been in consultation with stakeholders including the plastic manufacturers and has released a Single Use Plastic Implementation Plan. According to this document, the list of plastics not allowed in protected areas include: PET bottles, disposable cutlery (forks, knives, spoons, chopsticks, straws and beverage stirrers), non-woven plastic carrier bags, cigarettes with plastic filters, plastic cotton bud sticks, expanded polystyrene (EPS) beverage containers, crisps packets, sweet wrappers, confectionary wrappers, sanitary items such as diapers (does not include sanitary pads), lollipop sticks, wet wipes, single use plastic dental flosser, single-use toiletries packaged in plastics such as soaps, lotions or shampoos.
Given that Kenya is a safari destination and most tourists to the parks and conservancy areas prefer spending at least one full day in the wilderness tracking the Big 5, hotels, camps and lodges will have to move with speed to ensure the packaging of picnic lunch boxes adhere to the provision of the ban.
Query Two: What are the negative impacts of single-use plastics in our protected areas?
The ban on single-use plastics refers to those plastics that are used once then disposed. Within protected areas, they are either generated directly by visitors and accommodation facilities or indirectly through storm waters from residential areas upstream.
From a biodiversity perspective, improper disposal of plastics along the shores of water bodies such as rivers, lakes and oceans can have adverse impacts on fish, turtles and other organisms. Usually, these living organisms mistake ocean plastic for plastic food or become entangled in them. The ingested plastics then fill their stomachs, preventing them from feeding anymore and potentially leading to their death.
Further, a throw-away culture where wastes such as plastics are disposed of in municipal dumpsites has been engrained in our day-to-day operations for many years. It is important to pause and reflect on this action, because it has had adverse impacts on ground water and surface water resources which provide us with drinking water. The plastic that is disposed has no ability to degrade but rather photodegrade into small micro-plastics which cause water pollution. In areas where there is inadequate supply of treated water, residents usually depend on the water bodies which may be contaminated leading to health effects such as cancer.
Query Three: What are the Alternatives to Single-use Plastics that Business can adopt?
Unlike the COVID-19 which descended on us unawares with no prior knowledge of how to tackle it, the plastic problem has been part of our conversation as responsible tourism operators for a while. For those who want to adapt to the no zero plastic in their operations, resources are available such as the Ecotourism Kenya Green Directory and international organizations such as Travel without Plastic.
Within our destination, tourism operators can take important steps to reduce the generation of single-use plastic from their operations. Some of the measures include:
Use of refillable water bottles
At the 2019 Ecotourism Kenya annual general meeting, we had a ‘bring your own bottle’ theme and we witnessed the many tourism operators who had already introduced the refillable bottles as an alternative to single use plastic bottles for their guests. Just before COVID-19 happened, the Kenya Association of Tour Operators was working on modalities to import in bulk refillable water bottles for use by their guests. Whether the refillable bottle comes at an extra cost to the guest and therefore making our destination more expensive is a debatable issue
Examples of refillable aluminium water bottles given to guests for use during their stay by Uniglobe Lets Go Travel, Eco Adventures Limited, Elewana Collection and Sunworld Safaris among others. They can carry them away as souvenirs at the end of their stay
Use of paper, bamboo or stainless steel straws
Paper straws and bamboo straws have in the recent years emerged as sustainable alternatives to plastic straws. This is due to their ability to biodegrade. The use of stainless steel straws is also becoming popular since they can be used more than once but requires proper hygiene.
Use of paper straw at Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge – July 2019
Use of refillable liquid soap containers
The use of plastic miniature shower gels, lotions and shampoos have been a common phenomenon in establishments such as hotels. This practice not only leads to wastage of the toiletries but also increases generation of plastic waste. However, in the recent years it has been quite encouraging to see refillable liquid soap containers being used in most ecorated camps and lodges in Kenya as an alternative.
The measures above are just a few examples of alternatives you can adopt for use in your operations. For more information regarding proposed alternatives to the banned single-use plastics, we encourage you to read page thirteen of the Single-use Plastic Implementation Plan.
If you wish to know about our Eco Certification scheme or for any queries or support on how you can manage plastic and all other forms of waste at your accommodation facility, please drop us an email on email@example.com.
Ecotourism Kenya is currently updating the Green Directory of green products and services to ensure it remains your first point of reference for your tourism and hospitality procurement.
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