There has only been a two sided narrative to this whole plastic debate. Mainstream media has only been concerned with pitting the Government and Manufacturers against each other as opposed to taking this opportunity to really delve into matters of waste and why they are so complex in our country. This has been an elitist conversation, playing like a broken record.
Firstly, there is definitely a correlation between poverty and the environment that is undeniable. The Underprivileged areas of the city are also the most densely populated. As the years go by, and as the poverty gap continues to increase, more and more people, especially the youth, continue to be pushed into these densely populated spaces. This immensely impacts on the land and infrastructure in those areas making them more fragile and prone to ecological depletion.
Because the people occupying these areas are poor, the aspect of marginalization also arises. We know that the Government is not in such a hurry to repair roads in Mathare or Dandora as they are Hurlingham and Kilimani. The neglect is so bad, such that when there is a catastrophe such as a fire, fire extinguishers are unable to put out fire because they cannot access the places burning. There are no roads- people have squatted on them. And you cannot blame them either, many years of lack of planning by the government coupled with increased disenfranchisement yields this precarious existence for the marginalized. So if a fire truck cannot put out fire, how are the sewage pipes going to be laid out? Water becomes such a precious and scarce resource that is costly for many families and therefore will find more immediate needs like cooking and showering, as opposed to washing garbage bags as NEMA is suggesting we do in their FAQs.
Sanitation takes a back seat as survival jumps to the fore. Who thinks sanitation and responsible waste disposal when you have no running water and toilets to use? Why would you think of using the meager resources you have, the little energy you have to conserve an environment that even the Government, being its major responsibility has neglected?
These people are alienated from their environment, albeit it being very intimate to their daily lives, by the daily reminder that they are not part of the privileged group that receives government attention for proper infrastructure. Environmental conservation becomes a conversation that privileged people have whilst sitting in the comfort of their lawns in Westlands.
To top this off, now we want to add to their daily agony the burden of finding other ‘materials’ to use as toilets without building toilets. We are telling them, we know they eat food from vibandas that also face water shortages, but we don’t care about the sanitary handling, packaging or the freshness of their food. Wajipange. Come Monday the 28th August, Mama Mboga will have to either have found an alternative packaging or close shop – and not earn for her family. The industrial area worker who buys ready-made food by the kibanda will have to buy something more expensive in town or just eat githeri wrapped in newspaper.
Plastics are a menace! We need them gone, absolutely, no question about it, but not through elitist policies that are trying to mask the inefficiencies of a Government that has failed to cater to all its citizens equally.