Kenya has become the latest African nation to ban the manufacture and import of all plastic bags used for commercial and household packaging.
Environment Minister Judi W. Wakhungu gave the order published in a gazette notice dated Feb. 28 and released to the public Wednesday. The new measures will take effect six months from the date of the notice.
Thin plastic shopping bags litter the streets of Kenya's capital, Nairobi. They have created towering piles at dump sites.
Cameroon, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, Mauritania and Malawi are among the countries that have adopted or announced such bans.
Some 100 million plastic bags are handed out every year in Kenya by supermarkets alone, the United Nations Environmental Program said in a statement. It called plastic bags the top challenge for urban waste disposal in Kenya, particularly in the poorest communities where access to disposal systems is limited.
UNEP said the bags have long been identified as a major cause of environmental damage and health problems, killing birds, fish and other animals that mistake them for food. They also damage agricultural land, pollute tourist sites and provide breeding grounds for the mosquitoes that carry malaria and dengue fever.
"Kenya is taking decisive action to remove an ugly stain on its outstanding natural beauty," said Erik Solheim, the U.N. program's executive director.
Plastic bags contribute to the 8 million tons of plastic that leak into the ocean every year. At current rates, by 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish, according to UNEP.