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Friday, 12 September 2014

Harmful effects of plastic wastes on livestock

By Philip Nandwa
It is estimated that hundreds of millions of plastic bags are been handed out in Kenya by supermarkets, vegetable and fruit vendors, shops and many other businesses. These contribute to the hundreds of millions of plastic wastes which pose a threat to animals if they ingest them while grazing or searching for food.
A quick survey of Marigat town in Baringo County indicates that from a simple transaction of purchasing vegetables at the roadside to shopping, one cannot miss out on the use of polythene as the main packaging materials.
The large quantity of polythene released to the environment is further amplified by the fact that packaging polythene bags are mostly meant for single use and they stay in the environment for a long time after use. As a result of these two interacting factors coupled with the throw away culture of most people, they rapidly increase and accumulate in the environment.
Staff at Chemeron farm examine a dead cow
A walk around Marigat and its environs would enable one to observe open dumping of wastes including plastics and polythene in residential areas, on roads sides and in business areas. One will also encounter deliberate burning of wastes and plastics contributing to air pollution and accumulated litter composed mainly of polythene.
Plastic wastes are a threat to livestock. A good number of livestock’s that roam freely in areas littered with plastic wastes may ingest them due to their indiscriminate eating habits.
Indicative conditions resulting from ingestion of plastics and polythene include; indigestion, immune suppression, ruminal obstruction, loss of weight, depression, reduced milk yield and bloat. This leads to increased veterinary costs of caring for such an animal. Such livestock may eventually die if veterinary care is not fast enough.
In Marigat, three cows that had died at Chemeron farm were found with an assortment of plastic materials in their stomach. Before the cows died they had exhibited general loss of weight, bloat, body weakness and they could not stand on their own without being supported.
Other impacts of plastic wastes that end up in the environment include; clogged drains and sewers, soil and visual pollution as well as posing danger to marine life and wildlife.
In many Kenyan towns, plastics litter the landscape and streets. Some are blown by the wind and get caught on fences, trees and other vegetation. These create an unsightly scene which degrades the aesthetics of the environment and has a negative effect on tourism if not checked. 
In spite of the advantages attached to the use of plastics and polythene, there is need to control its use in order to minimize the negative impacts that come with it. This calls for policy issues as well as change of behavior on our part.
Polythene bag recovered from a cows stomach
While some countries have instituted a complete ban on the use of plastics, it is clear that this is not feasible in Kenya as it may have many economic implications. The question therefore is, how can Kenya integrate the continued use of plastics with environmental protection and reduce the danger that livestock are exposed to, and more so in Marigat where livestock keeping is a major livelihood.
The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) has provided the 4Rs solution to the problem in the country. That is reduction, reuse, recycling and recovery.
In Marigat some of the mitigation measures worth considering are; creating awareness on the possible dangers of careless disposal of plastic bags, organizing clean up campaigns as a demonstration to sensitize the community on the importance of cleaning such wastes, advising livestock owners on habit of allowing animals to roam freely in search of food, enforcement of existing laws and regulations on control of animals in urban areas, discouraging throwing of food items in polythene, encouraging use and re use of polythene bags and reduction in quantity of plastic bags used by shoppers/consumers by introducing a special fee for every plastic bag/ polythene that is used regardless of its size. 
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