Weapons, exotic pets, organs, and prescription drugs are some of the items that can be found in black markets.

But in Kenya, there’s a hot new item available — plastic bags.

After the government enacted a ban on single-use plastic bags in 2017, smugglers have met the remaining demand for the product, according to the United Nations. And now streets are cluttered with the hard-to-recycle grocery bags, the UN reports.

Take Action: Call on Governments and Business Leaders to Say No to Single-Use Plastics

People are going through underground channels to obtain plastic bags, potentially risking steep fines and prison sentences, because many grocers and merchants still depend on them for their businesses, according to the Guardian.

“The ban has shaken the economy. In several areas, business is at a standstill,” Samuel Matonda of the Kenyan manufacturers association, told the Guardian.

Matonda argues that the ban should be phased in gradually, but Kenyan officials disagree, pointing to extreme plastic pollution in waterways.

Image: Flickr / Charles Henry

The country is surrounded by five nations, and each border is ripe for the transport of plastic bags, according to the UN.

Uganda, in particular, has become a primary source of plastic bags for Kenyan retailers. The border features a steady stream of commuters and any number of vehicles could be holding the newly illegal goods, the UN suggests.

As a result, Kenyan leaders are calling on other countries to enact bans on plastic bags and they hope to one day enact a regional East African ban on the product.

Read More: Fed Up With Plastic, This Man Got Kenya to Ban It

“We share a common water source, [and] plastic waste [affects] drainage and marine life within our rivers and lakes. This issue affects everyone,” John Baraza Wangwe, the environmental minister of Kakamega county in Kenya, told the UN.

“There should be a regional approach among the East African community to banning plastic bags,” he added, “to ensure that all countries partake in and enforce the law.”

Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, and South Sudan are currently debating whether to enact a similar ban.

Rwanda, which banned plastic bags in 2008, also contends with smuggling, according to the UN.

Read More: The Long, Strange Journey of a Plastic Bag

And authorities in Morocco seized more than 420 tons of illegal bags after enacting a ban in 2017.

The movement against single-use plastic is gaining momentum around the world and at least 16 local, state, and national governments have banned certain forms of plastic.

Global Citizen campaigns to end the production of single-use plastics and you can take action on this issue here.


Defend the Planet

Smugglers Threaten to Undermine Kenya’s Plastic Bag Ban

By Joe McCarthy