Big Oil Is in Trouble. Its Plan: Flood Africa With Plastic.


As a university student walking to class, Mr. Wakibia, now 37, used to pass a noxious landfill in Nakuru, Kenya’s fourth-largest urban area. The stench and the plastic debris that spilled into the street, he said, prompted him to act.

He began campaigning, largely on social media, for the ban, and his plea soon gained traction across a country inundated with plastic. Bags were everywhere — in the air, clinging to trees, clogging waterways and causing flooding.

With strong public backing, a ban on plastic bags took effect in 2017, and it has teeth: Anyone caught breaking the law could face jail time. This year, the government followed up by banning other types of single-use plastic, including bottles and straws, in national parks and other protected areas.

“We have done something,” Mr. Wakibia said of the bag ban. “But we should not stop because there is so much pollution going on.”

Kenya isn’t the only country taking measures to curb plastics. A recent report by the United Nations counted 127 countries with policies on the books to regulate or limit use.

In response, the industry has tried to address the plastics issue. The Alliance to End Public Waste — formed by oil giants like Exxon Mobil and Chevron, as well as chemical companies like Dow — last year pledged $1.5 billion to fight plastic pollution. That figure, critics point out, is a small fraction of what the industry has invested in plastic infrastructure.

Manufacturers “say they will address plastic waste, but we say plastic itself is the problem,” Mr. Ochieng said. “An exponential growth in plastics production is just not something we can handle.”



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