Meet Moses and Timinah Githinji,a Kenyan couple who moved to Rwanda’s capital city Kigali last year. They tell us what it was like adjusting to life without plastic bags and share what they have learned By Gardy Chacha



Moses and Timinah Githinji at there home in Kigali Rwanda

The Githinjis are a welcoming couple. They pick me up from my hotel in Kigali and we head to their house. I am sitting at the back of their Toyota Avensis wagon.
It is a short drive – about 10 minutes – to Kanombe, a suburb at the periphery of Kigali, where the couple are currently domiciled.
“Welcome!” Moses, the man of the house, says as we dock at the front porch. Timinah, Moses’ wife, picks paper bags with open brims carrying shopping out of the boot of the car.
[Perhaps the couple went through a supermarket before picking me at the hotel.]
When was the last time you chose ‘you’?
Moses picks a few more and I carry the rest as we all head for the front door – which opens into the couple’s kitchen.
Timinah instinctively pulls off her sweater, rolls her sleeves, and starts on some kitchen work. The brown paper bags on her Kitchen counter are no longer strange.
“I am used to carrying my shopping in these,” Timinah tells me, sensing that I probably want to ask a question about the paper bags.
In October 2016, the Githinjis moved from Nairobi to Kigali to take on new roles.
First, they saw Kigali’s cleanliness; admiring it with awe. And then they got to learn about the ban on plastic bags. (Rwanda banned use of plastic bags in 2008.)
In the weeks that followed, the Githinjis sought the company of friends Kigali natives – who provided an orientation of sorts.
Residents in Nairobi carry environmental friendly bags following ban on plastic bags.{David Njaaga, Standard}
“In Rwanda, they use paper bags,” Moses says. “At the supermarket counter the attendant packs all shopping in these paper bags.”
Back in Nairobi, the Githinjis recall, they would enter a supermarket and leave with about five extra-large plastic bags carrying nearly a month’s worth of shopping.
Even without their car it would have been easy hoping into a matatu with their shopping; heading back home. That is not the case in Kigali.
Unlike plastic bags, paper bags are fragile and blot in water and hence only manufactured in smaller sizes. With a month’s worth of shopping, the Githinjis find themselves with nearly 20 paper bags to carry home. Owning a car makes shopping easier.
With the plastic paper ban in Kenya, the Kigali way of life is slowly becoming a reality.
The Githinjis say they slipped right into it and now enjoy the status quo.
“I not only like this city: I love Kigali’s cleanliness. The plastic bags ban in Kigali has contributed immensely in the city being clean. Cleanliness starts from my house and I feel happy doing my part living in this paper bag-less society,” Timinah says.
From collecting litter in paper bags to sorting waste, the Githinjis have undergone a metamorphosis of culture (and manners) to adjust into a life without paper bags.
Ms Veronica Wanjiku, 83, displays sisal made bags at her shop at Jua Kali Stalls in Nakuru
We toured Kigali and interviewed residents, other than Moses and Timinah Githinji, on how they have adjusted to living without plastic bags. We also spoke to NEMA officers and mined data from publications to find out what one can do to cope with the new reality.
The following are our findings:
1. Garbage collection
For Maria Lihachi, a resident of South B in Nairobi, the ban bit most on the garbage collection front.
“Most household waste is sticky. I would use plastic papers to line the bin and when full, it was easy folding the paper and giving the garbage collectors,” Maria says.
This is a problem that the Githinjis too encountered and adjusted to by separating liquid and solid wastes. Moses says: “Now we place solid waste on the paper bags we get from shopping and tie each at the brim when full before placing it in the actual dustbin.”
Irene Kamunge, who chaired the Plastic Carrier Bags Ban Committee at NEMA, says that garbage bin liners that are biodegradable will be circulating soon and will be available for sale.
But, even in their absence, garbage can still be handled properly, Irene says.
At home, households will be forced to revert to an old but familiar mode of handling waste: sorting. “We will need to build up a culture of sorting our garbage. For instance organic waste can be grouped together,” Irene says.
Timinah says: “Now you can’t pour wet litter (with substantial amount of liquid) in the same container as solid litter.”
If you have a garden, it may help if you also sort out organic waste and place it in a composting pit to make manure. The manure may prove helpful in growing vegetables and other crops.
2. Shopping
In towns, where retail stores are common, shoppers will be forced to carry their own container bags. This is already happening.
“Every person going to a market needs to carry an alternative bag,” Irene says. Just this week, Irene gladly picked up her kiondo to the market. “I bought my vegetables and arranged them in such a way that the hard ones were below and the soft ones towards the top,” she says.
There are some supermarket stores that are offering free linen packing bags. You would be lucky to bump into one.
While in Kigali plastic bags were quickly replaced with paper bags, the same cannot be said about Nairobi. Supermarkets are yet to give out paper bags at the counter.
“You will pay Sh100 for the packing bag to carry your goods,” Maria was told at one supermarket the day the plastic ban took effect.
Sh100 is not a small amount to be spending on packing bags every time you visit the supermarket. Hence it would be advantageous to preserve the bags you have in your house for reuse – as long as they can do the job without spilling the shopping.
The other option (which may only be available to car owners) would be to load the merchandise in a car boot then vroom off.
Irene says that for shopping, Kenyans would be better off investing in canvas bags, sisal bags, papyrus baskets and linen-type bags – which are reusable for a long period.
3. Buying meat, cereals and liquid household goods
What happens when you visit the butchery and the grain store?
The practice has often been that the butcher will pack your meat in a polythene bag then either roll it in a newspaper leaf or throw it in another plastic bag (with handles).(Remember the president saying, ‘Gazeti ni ya kufunga nyama’?)
The butcher is then forced to package your meat directly on a paper – whether newspaper or otherwise.
The problem with that is that meat tends to stick to papers. And then again, newspapers have ink, and they may not be healthy to have in contact with wet foods such as meat.
The Githinjis often pack their meat in the paper bag. “When it sticks, we dip it in water and the paper will come off the meat when soaked,” says Timinah.
As for cereals, it would make your work easier to visit the grocer with your own bag or container.
Liquids, like milk, will need reusable containers like a plastic bottle.
4. Packaging food for storage in a freezer
You can store boiled cereals in freezer-safe containers. As for vegetables, at the supermarket, argues Irene, they are placed directly on the shelves of the fridge.
“Why then would you insist on placing vegetables in a polythene bag first before placing it in the fridge?” she asks.
Once cleaned, vegetables can be placed directly on the shelves of a fridge and they would be just fine, Irene says.
The situation is, however, trickier with meats. But here too Irene has a solution. “Plastic and glass containers easily carry meat in the freezer. In fact, they are even more convenient than plastic bags. What one needs to do is place their meat in the container and place it inside the freezer,” Irene explains.
5. Wrapping soiled and wet clothes
Women are known to love convenience. The endeavour for convenience has meant that people carry alternative objects for use – especially during travel.
You may need to carry an extra pair of shoes: one pair for walking and another for wearing at work. Does this ring a bell?
While on vacation, after a spending a night or two at a hotel, and it is time to travel back, you may need to carry some wet clothes (may be undergarments) in a separate container to prevent the wetness spreading in the bag.
What do you do? Irene has an option that may make sense to you: invest in a toilet bag.
A toilet bag is a bag with substantial volume, either made from leather, variants of leather, linen or other materials used to make conventional bags, but with an inside lining that remains – to a good degree – impermeable to water.