Rwanda, Kenya, and 32 more African countries
Africa is leading the way in creating a plastic free world!
Across the continent, 34 countries have either passed laws that ban single use plastics and many have implemented them. Of course, the picture and results are mixed, especially for market vendors who are often among the poorest in society.
Rwanda was my first plastic free experience. Back in 2008, UN Habitat named its capital, Kigali, the cleanest city. That land of a thousand hills is probably the cleanest country I’ve ever been in.
No sooner had I jumped into the airport taxi, than the driver started proudly pointing out the spotless streets, reminding me of the hefty fines for littering. I wonder if it was a message all taxi drivers were trained to deliver?
Most places I’ve been, airport roads are showpiece avenues, verdant, welcoming and often a world apart from the rest of the country. Not so in Rwanda. Even heading out well beyond Kigali, towards the southern border, beyond the posh, tree lined areas, I failed to find those flapping multi-coloured plastic shreds clinging to fencing and trees that I’ve come to expect everywhere.
The idea of plastic free space is brilliant. But, the reality takes some getting used to. Having my zip lock bags confiscated at the airport meant that I had to deal with messy luggage for the rest of my stay. Paper bags at supermarkets reminded me of long ago times in Toronto before plastic ruled – and were just as awkward for carrying. In markets, the artistry of carrier bags stitched from rice and maize sacks and trimmed with African cloth was almost as beautiful as the woven baskets.
In the food market though, I was struck by the challenge for market women selling vegetables, oil, maize and many other daily provisions. Their customers had long distances to go on foot or by transport carrying wet or heavy or soft goods that were easier to haul before the ban. Yes, the ban is good for the environment, and for the country but not so good for business for the poorest.
Photographer James Wakibia is often credited with driving the national campaign – BanPlasticsKE – to ban plastics in Kenya. In 2017, the Kenyan government brought in the toughest ban on plastics in the world. It’s an amazing story about one young man’s passion and campaign, using social media and mobilising national support.
I’m so inspired by James’ story – and worried to hear reports that the Kenyan government may be under pressure to water down their ban, as part of the upcoming US – Kenya trade agreement.
I encourage you to listen to James’ story on the Nairobi Idea Podcast. Incidentally, it’s a great podcast if you fancy exploring further.