Hello, good morning, and welcome back to another exciting edition of the Maseno Minute. From your team here at TLC, we hope you’re thriving today. If not, we hope you know you deserve to.
This morning, as you sip your coffee and peruse this article, look around your kitchen or office, or glance down your neighborhood street, and count how many plastic bags you see. There is probably one in your garbage can, maybe a cardboard box of small plastic sandwich bags in the third drawer from the top, as well. Don’t forget the pile of older bags stashed under the sink, waiting for their moment of repurpose, or the dewy plastic bag in the gutter next to the sidewalk, the wrinkles in the plastic marked by orange pine-needles and coffee-colored soil.
Plastic bags constitute a monstrously large cog in the machine of our society, and this has had a detrimental effect on our environment. In the US, the use of plastic bags has recently started declining, at least a little, as the importance of reusable bags has become more apparent. More sustainable—yet initially more expensive—solutions like reusable bags, however, are a financial privilege we take for granted in the US.
In Kenya, there is an egregiously excessive use of plastic bags: they are used in supermarkets; by roadside vendors of produce and food like samosas and chips; and in the slums, plastic bags are used as “flying toilets,” carrying human waste because these areas lack sewage systems. Because of this universal not just usage, but reliance, on plastic bags in Kenya, we were a bit surprised when the country recently passed a complete ban on all plastic bags. This means no garbage bags, no duty-free bags from the airport, and a fine of up to $38,000 or four years in jail for anyone caught with a bag.
And we, here at TLC, have a few thoughts on this.
Firstly, we do not support the wasteful use of plastic bags. Kenyans use an estimated 10 million bags per year, and if plastic bag usage continues as it is, by 2050 there will be more plastic bags in the ocean than fish. In addition, Kenyan livestock often graze on trash, and many cows in slaughterhouses are found with up to 20 plastic bags in their stomachs, proof that plastic is working its way into the human food chain. So, a ban on plastic bags has to be a good thing, right?
Well, kind of. The problem with the bag-ban in Kenya is that government officials who advocated for the ban did not also advocate for a sustainable solution, like subsidized cloth bags, etc. This means that the poorest sector of Kenyans—the (usually women) selling produce and samosas on the street—will now be faced with an added costs to their businesses they are simply unable to finance. There is also the huge population of people living in slums who will no longer have a sewage system.
On a more personal note, however, the plastic bag ban impacts The Pad Project. When girls are given a pad kit, they receive two reusable base units and 8 reusable liners so they can use their pads all day long: when a liner is soiled, girls replace it and store it in a plastic bag until they can return home and clean it. However, without access to plastic bags, girls will not be able to change their liners during a long school day, forcing them to leave school while also adding unnecessary stress and worry to their lives.
To remedy this, The Pad Project would like to purchase wet bags—reusable waterproof and leak-resistant bags that zip shut, enclosing all moisture and odor—to distribute with each pad kit. We are happy and excited to do this, as we are ecstatic to be providing more sustainable solutions. However, this is an added cost we are not equipped to pay for, as wet bags are often quite expensive. Luckily, Pad Project Director Emma Stober has access to cheap wet bags at a store near her home in Japan that cost only $1 per bag. We are asking three people to donate $10/month for the next three months to help us buy wet bags so girls in Kenya can continue using their pads and stay in school.
We hope this week’s Maseno Minute has given you something to think about during your morning run or afternoon coffee fix, and maybe it has helped put sustainability measures here into the US into perspective. The US uses an estimated 380 billion plastic shopping bags annually, and that number does not even include garbage bags and other single-use plastic bags. This is embarrassing—the US, unlike Kenya, is perfectly equipped to enact a ban on plastic bags. Though California and Hawaii have passed legislation to limit plastic bag usage, we have taken no real responsibility on the issue. We often only opt for a reusable bag if it’s convenient, or if we will be seen at more “crunchy” (a term used for environmentally-friendly-hippie-establishments and people) grocery stores like Whole Foods. Because we prioritize keeping up appearances.
As you start your week, we ask you to consider what this plastic bag ban means for our girls in Kenya. We also challenge you to consider eliminating plastic bags from your life for the rest of the month of September—only ten more days—to see what some of the difficulties would be if you were living in Kenya with the bag-ban. With plastic bags, but also with our everyday lives, our lack of action often derives from the desire to simply do what is easiest, and not what is best. And we, here at TLC, think that is something is to think about.
From all of us at TLC, we hope you have a wonderful, exciting and hopefully bag-free week.