Kenya implemented one of the world's toughest plastic shopping bag bans Aug. 28, with potential jail time for making and importing the bags, as the government sought to crack down on what it sees as a significant source of pollution.
The law, which the government said makes it "illegal to use, import and manufacture plastic carrier bags," attracted widespread media coverage, with Kenya's environment ministry posting photos of its inspectors visiting local markets and confiscating bags.
And in what may be a first for a bag law, the environment agency sent out an official statement disputing accusations on Kenyan social media that government employees were using the ban to solicit bribes.
It denied reports that officials were stopping cars to search for plastic bags and "arresting members of the public and soliciting bribes to be set free," saying it had not "sanctioned any actions to stop and inspect private or public vehicles for plastic bags."
Government officials said enforcement was being directed at businesses.
The Kenya Association of Manufacturers said more than 500 business people attended an Aug. 30 forum it hosted to discuss the ban and plastic waste with government officials, where KAM raised concerns about the law's implementation.
The head of Kenya's National Environment Management Authority told the business executives that the government would soon begin discussions with manufacturers.
Media reports quoted NEMA as saying that the ban only applies to plastic retail shopping bags and that the government has "no intention" of closing factories that employ thousands of Kenyans.
It's unclear if any Kenyan factories had closed. One local newspaper accompanying government inspectors reported finding a bag factory with a sign saying it had closed because of the ban. Government officials on the scene said factories are free to produce other types of bags.
The ban specifically does not cover plastic bags used for industrial packaging, nor does it cover bags for general garbage, hazardous waste and biomedical waste. The law reportedly carries jail time of up to four years and fines of up to $38,000 for making or importing the bags.
Kenyan government officials say retail shopping bags are very visible in roadside litter, block sewers and contribute to flooding, and are consumed by animals, where they then get into the human food supply.
"It is a toxin that we must get rid of," Judi Wakhungu, the cabinet secretary for natural resources and environment, told reporters in a video interview at an environmental trade show. "It is affecting our water. It is affecting our livestock. And, even worse, we are ingesting this as human beings."
The first week had a heavy push by the government, including on social media.
NEMA urged the public to drop off unused bags at various supermarket collection points. One newspaper report said that a single location in Kenya, Migori county, had seen more than 1 metric ton of bags collected in the first two days.
But others questioned whether the ban would work in the long term.
An environmental researcher at the University of Nairobi, in Kenya's capital city, said previous attempts to ban plastic bags in Kenya failed because of a lack of consistent implementation.
Leah Oyake-Ombis said the country should instead pursue a broader strategy of waste management collection and recycling.
"My research on the management of plastic waste in urban Kenya shows that this new ban is not realistic," she wrote in a July essay for the website, The Conversation.
"Plastic bags ... have an extremely important role in the average person's daily life as they stand out for their excellent fitness for use, resource efficiency and low price."
Oyake-Ombis, who is also managing director of Kenyan firm Alise Consultants, was not letting plastics companies off the hook.
Any government waste management system should "require plastic industries to take back certain quantities of plastic waste from the solid waste management system to enhance recycling," she said.
One speaker at the Kenyan manufacturers forum also urged the government and industry to work for a producer responsibility/take back scheme for some plastics, according to a tweet from KAM.
KAM seemed to take nuanced position. CEO Phyllis Wakiaga said in a post on its website that the bag ban is in general a positive step, but questioned its implementation.
"No doubt that this is a positively significant step that our country is taking towards environmental conservation and sustainability," she said. "However, the execution of the ban will favor big industrial businesses and supermarkets, and greatly disadvantage small businesses."