The Star (Nairobi)

27 June 2014

Kenya: How Dangerous Plastic Waste Ends On Dinner Tables - UNEP

Poorly disposed plastics are slowly poisoning the world's food chain, the United Nations Environment Programme has warned in two new reports that might boost plans by Nairobi County to ban thin plastic bags in the city.

The reports show that apart from killing fish and other marine life, some of the waste ends up on dinner tables as poisonous food.

Unep's concerns are raised in the UNEP Year Book 2014 and Valuing Plastic, the two reports launched this week during during the environment assembly in Nairobi.

The authors explain that plastic bags washed down rivers and oceans are causing losses in excess of Sh6.53 trillion (US$75 billion) globally each year.

The losses result from pollution of the marine life including deaths of fish and turtles or air pollution caused by incinerating plastic.

"Transported by ocean currents across great distances, these contaminated particles eventually become a source of chemicals in our food," said Achim Steiner, UNEP executive director, said in Gigiri.

Unep is now calling for reduced use of plastics across the world.

The report will boost a Bill by Nairobi's leader of minority part Abdi Hassan which bans manufacture and sale of plastic bags less than 30 micron within Nairobi.

This includes all the transparent plastic bags currently used to package sugar and rice in retail outlets, or vegetables in kiosks.

The Bill commits the County to provide depots or places for temporary deposit or collection of non-bio-degradable garbage in Nairobi.

It empowers city council askaris or relevant authorities to search homes, offices, factories or other premises for illegal plastics, as long as they are armed with a court order.

"During an inspection under this Act, an authorised officer may seize any plastic bag or thing by means of which or in relation to which the officer believes, on reasonable grounds, that this Act has been contravened," the proposed law says.

Those found with illegal plastic bags can be jailed for up to one year or be fined up to Sh500,000 or both.

"A person who having been convicted of an offence under this Act, is again found guilty and is convicted of an offence under this Act, shall be punishable with double the penalty provided for the offence, the law says.

A past attempt in Kenya to discourage use of plastics by imposing a 120 per cent tax on polythene bags in the 2007-2008 budget proposals was fought by manufactures of the plastic bags who argued the tax would drive them out of business.

On Monday, Unep boss Steiner said most plastic waste enters the ocean from littering, poorly managed landfills, tourist activities and fisheries.

He said the plastics are now killing turtles and fish when they ingest them, and entangling animals such as dolphins and whales, and damaging coral reefs.

"Plastics have come to play a crucial role in modern life, but the environmental impacts of the way we use them cannot be ignored," said Steiner.

"Reducing, recycling and redesigning products that use plastics can bring multiple green economy benefits."

The UNEP Year Book further says the use of microplastics directly in consumer products, such as microbeads in toothpaste, gels and facial cleansers is dangerous.

"These microplastics tend not to be filtered out during sewage treatment, but are released directly into rivers, lakes and the ocean," the book says.

The Year Book looks at ten issues flagged as emerging by previous reports over the past decade, including plastic waste in the ocean.

It gives an update on each issue and provides options for action. Other areas covered include the environmental impacts of excess nitrogen and marine aquaculture, air pollution's deadly toll, and the potential of citizen science.

Valuing Plastic, a UNEP-supported report produced by the Plastic Disclosure Project and Trucost, makes the business case for managing and disclosing plastic use in the consumer goods industry.

It finds that the overall natural capital cost of plastic use in the consumer goods sector each year is Sh6.5 trillion (US$75 billion) -- financial impacts resulting from issues such as pollution of the marine environment or air pollution caused by incinerating plastic.

"The research unveils the need for companies to consider their plastic footprint, just as they do for carbon, water and forestry," said Andrew Russell, Director of the PDP. "By measuring, managing and reporting plastic use and disposal through the PDP, companies can mitigate the risks, maximize the opportunities, and become more successful and sustainable."

UNEA meeting, which ends today, is the highest-level UN body ever convened on the environment.

It enjoys universal membership of all 193 UN member states as well as other stakeholder groups.

With this wide reach into the legislative, financial and development arenas, the new body presents a ground-breaking platform for leadership on global environmental policy.

UNEA had more than 1200 participants, 170 national delegations, 80 ministers and 40 events.

They included environment ministers, scientists, civil society representatives and business leaders.

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