UN environmental agency takes on your neighbourhood plastic bag

23 February 2005 – The United Nations environmental agency today took on the ubiquitous flimsy plastic shopping bag, launching a children’s book that alerts communities to the menace of discarded plastic and welcoming a Kenyan report that proposes a ban on the flimsiest versions of the bag and slap a hefty levy on thicker ones.

“This is not just a problem for this country. Wastes are an increasing problem everywhere, particularly in developing countries,” UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Klaus Toepfer told the agency’s Governing Council in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, attended by over 100 environment ministers.

According to the report, funded by UNEP and Kenya’s National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), the bags – many so thin they are simply thrown away after one trip from the shops – block gutters and drains, choke farm animals and marine wildlife, pollute the soil as they gradually break down and can fill with rainwater, offering ideal and new breeding grounds for malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

A ban on bags less than 30 microns thick and the levy on thicker ones are among a raft of proposals aimed at reducing the use of polythene bags and providing funds for alternative, more environmentally-friendly carriers such as cotton or sisel bags and for effective recycling schemes. An estimated 4,000 tons of thin plastic bags are produced each month in Kenya.

Operating the plastic bag levy could become a blue-print for similar schemes aimed at the rising tide of other wastes confronting Kenya and countries across Africa and the developing world, UNEP said.

Mr. Toepfer today also launched Theo and the Giant Plastic Ball, the second book in a UNEP series which aims to inspire caring for the Earth through creative literature that sparks the interest and awareness of children, their parents and teachers.

In it a boy called Theo alerts communities to the menace of discarded plastic bags by collecting and rolling them into a giant ball.

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