As it appeared in the Daily Nation on September 5th, 2017
The last time I was on the Mai-Mahiu Maasai-Mara road, one of the main attractions was the plastic bags. It was heart-rending to witness such sights. The areas around the urban areas along the road were most affected. All over and especially in our urban centers, the plastic bags menace is a major threat to our environment. They have particularly been blamed for blocking drainages resulting to flooding. Since the plastic ban took effect a week ago, it has not been business as usual.
Those most affected by the plastic ban are the manufacturers, the retailers and their customers. Over time, plastic bags have become the preferred form of packaging. We have overused them as packing material on anything and everything. Looking back less than two decades ago, we used to survive on paper packaging. We seem to have forgotten that experience. Without plastic bags, packaging of items seems a pain not only to retailers but also to customers.
Last week I checked out a few retailers to find out how the plastic ban had affected them. I was also keen to find out how customers were coping with it. It was evident that most retailers prepared well in advance. I was quite curious how the meat business at City Market was coping. Like most other retailers, there was an additional item for sale, a reusable bag to pack your meat. A staff at one of the butcheries simply asked me “utaweka wapi?” and though I had carried a reusable bag, I responded “sijui”. He therefore went on to offer me the bag at Ksh 20. Since the meat was still in the clear small plastics bags, it was possible to use a reusable bag. I bet the next time I may need to carry a waterproof bag or a plastic container or even a bucket.
Customers like choices and with the plastic ban, most retailers are providing the choices. One has to either pay for packaging, carry the items on their bare hands or BYOB- bring your own bag. In most cases, the plastic bags ban has pushed the packaging burden from the retailers to the customers. Because of the awareness created, customers are not complaining when asked to sort out their own packaging. From the customers’ perspective, this may mean an additional cost but in long run, we are all beneficiaries of a cleaner environment. In addition, while some were busy talking about the hardships of the plastic ban, other enterprising Kenyans were busy sourcing us the alternatives.
Previously, packaging was considered as the retailers’ responsibility. In most cases, it had even been identified as a major touch point and a crucial part of the of the overall retail brand experience. Unfortunately, today the same retailers are overlooking the possibility of connecting with the customers by engaging them more regarding packaging options. Despite holding loyalty cards for several retailers, none has sent me any update regarding the plastic ban. I strongly feel that retailers need to communicate better regarding the packaging ban and the options. It is a small thing that can make a big difference in the experience. I doubt any retailer has recently developed a script regarding the packaging quagmire. As we join other countries such as Rwanda that have been plastic bags free for years we must continue to retrain our customers.
Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer connect via twitter @KiruthuLucy