Kenya put into force Monday a ban on plastic bags, threatening violators with imprisonment of up to four years or fines of up to 38,000 dollars.
Plastics bags may no longer be used, manufactured or imported in the East African nation in an attempt to protect the environment, the government said.
The minimum fine for violating the ban is 19,000 dollars or a one-year prison sentence.
Environmental enforcement officers Monday conducted inspections in shops and markets across Kenya, where many vendors had stocked up on bags made from paper, sisal or fabric.
“I am directing most of my customers to a retail shop selling [fabric] bags” for just a few cents, Siad Abdi, the owner of a shoe shop in the coastal city of Mombasa, told dpa.
While manufacturers lamented hundreds of jobs would be lost due to the ban, hawkers selling reusable bags were lining the streets along shopping areas to make profit off the need for alternatives.
Travellers at Kenyan airports were meanwhile requested to discard duty free and other plastic bags before passing through immigration.
Some 100 million plastic bags are handed out every year in Kenya by supermarkets alone, according to the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP).
Plastic bags are the number one challenge for urban waste disposal in Kenya, particularly in the poorest communities where access to disposal systems and healthcare is limited, the UNEP said.
A manufacturers’ association Friday lost a court petition to have the ban suspended.
The production of plastic bags for industrial purposes remains, however, exempt from the ban.
Kenya issued a ban against plastic bags twice before, in 2007 and 2011, but it failed to be widely implemented or legally enforced both times.
A handful of other African countries, including Rwanda, Mauritania and Morocco have already banned plastic bags.