A lobby from the petroleum industry in the United States is reportedly urging Washington to influence Kenya to water down its legislation against plastic waste in an effort to ensure that the East African country continues to import large quantities of plastic garbage from the US. The two countries are currently negotiating the terms of a bilateral commerce agreement aimed at boosting trade between them.
Documents reviewed by the New York Times contain a request from the American Chemistry Council – whose members include major oil companies – to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, demanding that Kenya reverses its strict limits on plastics.
American exporters shipped more than 1 billion pounds of plastic waste to 96 countries, including Kenya in 2019, ostensibly to be recycled, according to trade statistics. But much of the waste, often containing the hardest-to-recycle plastics, instead ends up in rivers and oceans, according to the New York Times report.
In 2017 Kenya outlawed the production, sale, and use of plastic bags with a maximum penalty of $40,000 or four years imprisonment. Before the ban, some 100 million plastic bags were handed out every year in Kenya by supermarkets alone.
The East African Wild Life Society (EAWLS) Executive Director, Nancy Ogonje, says that if Kenya is pressured to reverse course on plastic waste, the country’s efforts to combat plastic pollution for the benefit of its people and the environment will be greatly undermined. Kenya could also become a transit point for plastic waste from the West destined for dumping in other African countries.
“Less than 4 percent of plastic waste is recycled in Africa, and, unlike paper, glass, and metal, most plastic waste isn’t recycled into similar quality items. It is often downcycled into lower-quality plastics like insulation material, clothing fiber, and furniture – many of which are not easily recycled again,” Nancy Ogonje pointed out.
“The bulk of waste plastic that is not mechanically recycled is either sent to landfills or incinerated. This incineration process releases cancer-causing pollutants into the air and creates toxic ash, which also needs to be disposed of somewhere,” she added.
The East African Wild Life Society supports Kenya’s ban on single-use plastic and the upholding of the United Nations-backed Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal. The Convention obligates states to observe the fundamental principles of environmentally sound waste management and outlines limits on plastic waste entering low-and- middle-income countries.
In 2019, nearly every country in the world agreed to a new provision in the Basel Convention that aims to limit plastic waste pollution, but the United States was not among them, as it has not ratified the Convention.