Flying To Kenya With A Plastic Bag? Face A $40,000USD Fine!

Headed on a flight to Kenya anytime soon? Do you have anything wrapped in a plastic bag or sealed in a ziploc bag? If your airline wants to keep you out of trouble they should be informing you of Kenya’s plastic bag ban – brought into law two years ago. It was something I personally experienced on my KLM flight from Amsterdam to Nairobi. I remember hearing something like: “Ladies and gentlemen, if Nairobi is your final destination please discard any plastic bags that you may have with you. Kenya has a plastic bag ban. For your own benefit please leave them on the plane”.

A Kenya Airways 787
A Kenya Airways 787 Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Harsh penalties

While I’m writing this in 2019, it’s not exactly a new policy: since August 28th 2017 anyone in Kenya caught producing, selling or even possessing a plastic bag risks facing up to four years’ imprisonment or a fine of $40,000.

Realistically, it’s hard to say if tourists or even locals would actually face punishment to the fullest extent of the law for mere possession. However according to an article from The Guardian, in February 2018 more than 50 people were arrested in raids across the country. Authorities also shut down Nairobi’s busy Burma market for violating the ban.

More specific to travelers, Kenya’s Environment Minister Judy Wakhungu spoke to the BBC when the ban was first put into effect. She said travelers entering Kenya with duty-free plastic shopping bags will be required to leave them at the airport. She also added:

“Plastic bags now constitute the biggest challenge to solid waste management in Kenya. This has become our environmental nightmare that we must defeat by all means.”

An East African trend

In fact this is not exclusive to Kenya. Rwanda has had a ban on plastic bags since 2008, albeit with much smaller penalties than Kenya. The country is also on the verge of banning single-use plastics completely in the next few months. Furthermore, Reuters reports that Tanzania will ban the “production, importation, sale and use of all single-use plastic bags” by July 2019. Below is a tweet from RwandAir:

A Rwandair 737
A RwandAir 737. Rwanda has had a plastic bag ban in-place for over a decade Photo: Wikimedia Commons

It doesn’t seem like tourists have faced any harsh consequences from these bans. One traveler going through Nairobi’s airport reported that he was asked to empty the contents of his white plastic bag and throw it away. Nevertheless, it is good to be aware of such policies and be discreet about any plastic bags you may be using during your travels. You never know when a government will decide to get tough and serious about enforcing a particular law.

HiFly Plastic Free
HiFly was the first to operate a completely plastic-free flight Photo: HiFly

To wrap this up (no pun intended), these countries are taking the right actions against plastic waste much faster than many western countries have. Perhaps more airlines will adopt this growing trend against the using single-use plastic items. At the end of last year, HiFly was the first airline to operate a plastic-free flight. Maybe we could learn a thing or two and gain inspiration from all of these initiatives.

Do you travel with a lot of plastic or ziploc bags? We would love to know what you think about these new policies. Have you traveled to East Africa recently or will you travel there in the near future?