A plastic water bottle thrown into the drain beside the road in Lumakanda.

Belatedly starting a few years ago, the world became concerned on how non-biodegradable plastic is polluting the world’s environment. In order to give you an on the spot mirco-report, I am indicating what people do here in Lumakanda. In summary, the plastic that is not left in the soil is burned. Plastic, which is made from oil, easily burns. The problem, though, is that its fumes are toxic. Various cancers are increasing dramatically these days in Kenya. Is there a correlation?

I must confess that, although this is an unhealthy practice, this is what we do in our household. We are forced to do this because there is no other option. On the other hand, I need to note that the amount of trash including plastic is only a small fraction of what the average American throws away. I also remember in my youth in the late 1950s in the days before plastic materials became widely in use, our family outside of St. Louis burned our paper trash and only the metal cans and glass containers were put in the trash can for municipal pick-up.

In the last few years there have been marked improvements in the cleanliness of Lumakanda town.

About two and a half years ago, the Kenyan Government banned single use plastic bags. The picture above is from 2017 showing how the road near our house looked before the ban on single-use plastic bags. At that time these bags were everywhere, easily blown here and there by the wind. We had two sheep that died from eating these plastic bags so we stopped herding sheep.

This is a current picture of the road above our house. The remains of the black and blue plastic bags used and discarded at least two and a half years ago are still obvious, disintegrating slowly into smaller and smaller pieces for the next five hundred or so years. This was after only a few minutes or hours of use. Nonetheless no new single-use plastic bags are being used in Lumakanda. The town is much cleaner because of this.

The other major improvement is that Kakamega County has hired about ten municipal workers to clean up the town and the sub-county offices. In this picture one of the women with hoe, rake, shovel, and broom (the tied branches on the right side of the drain) is weeding and cleaning one of the drains and its slopes.

This is some of the debris on the other side of the road that she will collect and then burn. Note the blue plastic bottle which will be burned with the paper and organic matter.

These ashes from a fire of roadside debris was still smoldering when I took this picture.

This is a picture of an informal dump in town. Most of this trash, paper, glass, metal, and plastic is produced by a set of nearby bars which have made this out-of-the-way empty plot into a dump for their beer and liquor containers. At one time this dump was much bigger than it is now, but the municipal workers cleaned it up. Although I saw them carting away the trash in wheel barrows, I am not sure where they took it. The bar owners, though, continued to dispose of their trash in the lot. The blue bottles, along with some of the others, are plastic. Hopefully soon it will be cleaned up again.

You might have noticed that there are no plastic soda bottles in the litter. While it is possible to buy soda in plastic bottles, it is so much more expensive that everyone at least in Lumakanda buys soda in a glass bottle with a deposit of ten US cents. This is the way it used to be in the US when I was a kid. No more. When my daughter, Joy, was in Kenya in the 1990s, she brought home a glass coke bottle including the coke inside as a souvenir. She never opened it to drink the soda.

Has plastic improved the world or is it destroying the world?


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David Zarembka

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