Kenyan environmental campaigner and photojournalist James Wakibia has been leading a grassroots campaign for a plastic-free existence in his home country for years. With his impressive social reach, of more than 20,000 followers, and a personal mantra that “Less Plastic is Fantastic,” he’s been able to almost single-handedly push Kenya to ban single-use plastic bags.
He’s now the driving force of an international campaign across East Africa to ban all single-use plastics. Wakibia works closely with ocean-bound-plastic awareness organisations, such as Flipiflopi, and plastic-free campaigners in other countries, including the Uganda Coalition.
Wakibia’s journey began when he saw plastic waste piling up in water in Nakuru, Kenya. Concerned that the Government was failing in its duty to manage the country’s waste, he started campaigning, writing letters and visiting officials to encourage action.
In 2015 he set up the #banplasticsKE social media campaign to fight for a ban on plastics. He took photos of waste to report on the scale of the problem, lobbying for more support for cleanups. The campaign soon earned the support of Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Natural Resources, which pushed everything into action and led to Kenya’s decision in 2017 to ban single-use plastic bags.
In his tweets, Wakibia stresses the need to implement a regional ban on single-use plastic items that “are not essential and are impossible to recycle.” He calls for incentives to businesses to manufacture affordable and environmentally-friendly plastic alternatives; proper investment in waste management infrastructure; and for manufacturers and stakeholders in the plastics business to be compelled by law to create environmental cleanup funds.
He says this would challenge a problem in which most “only care about the profits they get, not about the environment their plastics are polluting.”
“It is estimated 8m tonnes of plastic is dumped into the ocean every year compromising marine ecosystems and negatively impacting human health. Plastic fuels water-borne diseases and releases harmful toxins when burnt,” he writes in a tweet.
Wakibia tells the UN that he was conscious of environmental damage even as a child, after seeing forest chopped down and cleared for cultivation. “From around 2011, I got angry about the poorly managed Gioto dump site in Nakuru, with so much trash, especially plastic bags, scattered all over the road.
“I believe plastic bottles should, and can, be recycled, and the government should ensure that all plastic bottles are standardized so that we have a quality bottle that can be easily recycled.”Tags: Activism, Africa, Kenya, Lobbying, plastic pollution