New Report Brings to Light Illegal Trade of Plastic in East Africa

Dandora Landfill Site in Nairobi Kenya.

Nipe Fagio in collaboration with Bio Vision Africa in Uganda, Global Initiative for Environment & Reconciliation in Rwanda, and the Centre for Environmental Justice and Development in Kenya, recently released an investigative report on the illegal trade and smuggling of plastic bags in the East African Community. The report analyses the state of single-use plastic bags in four countries and examines the trade and flow of plastic carrier bags, which have been fully banned in Tanzania, Kenya, and Rwanda, but are still found in the markets and on the streets.

Currently, the state of plastic pollution in East African countries can be described as one where countries are struggling with increasing amounts of single-use plastics that invade the markets and consequently the environment and waterways. Waste management systems are insufficient to handle the single-use plastic produced and most of the single-use plastic cannot be recycled locally, increasing the environmental harm.

Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania have implemented legislation to restrict single-use plastics. In the case of Rwanda, the legislation is comprehensive, restricting several kinds of single-use plastics. In the case of Kenya, single-use plastic carrier bags have been banned and other kinds of plastic restricted. In Tanzania, plastic carrier bags have been banned as well as plastic bottle seals, while Uganda is still grappling with effective ways to enforce its laws on plastic. 

Despite these bans on single-use plastic carrier bags, cross-border smuggling of these plastic bags is still taking place. 

“There is a need to increase knowledge on the reasons why the restrictions are in place and public campaigns, as well as incentives, for the use of reusable alternatives. Beyond that, the lack of harmonisation of the national legislations is necessary to impose regional restrictions that will make fiscalisation easier, and also prevent products produced in one country from migrating to neighbouring countries”, said Ana Le Rocha, director of Nipe Fagio. 

The report makes several recommendations to curb this illegal trade, this includes:

  • Dis-incentivising the smugglers;
  • Handling corruption problems;
  • Reducing consumption through awareness and education;
  • Sourcing sustainable packaging alternatives;
  • Finance research and locally-sourced alternative packaging;
  • Better waste management practices;
  • Better stakeholder engagements and collaboration in decision making at all levels;
  • A move towards a total ban;
  • Regional and international cooperation;
  • Strengthening surveillance of lawbreakers and empowering implementing bodies;
  • Harmonize regulations across the EAC and enhance regional cooperation.

Furthermore, East Africa has the potential to become the first single-use plastic-free region in the world. The success of plastic restrictions in Rwanda and the current restrictions in Kenya and Tanzania are global examples of well-implemented policies. The harmonisation of the national laws by bringing countries with less strict laws closer to countries with more strict laws, will increase the implementation rates, ease oversight and increase the effectiveness of the legislations.

The four East African organisations have also launched a petition calling on the Secretary-General, East African Community (EAC) to harmonise the use of single-use plastics in the East African Community. Sign the petition here to support their cause!