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Ideas & Debate

Circular economy key for sustainable growth

Sustainable manufacturing is a key focus for many industries today
Sustainable manufacturing is a key focus for many industries today as we drift towards Industry 4.0. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Sustainable manufacturing is a key focus for many industries today as we drift towards Industry 4.0.

In the past decades, manufacturing has been visualised as a mechanism to produce products for the large market without concern about the after effect of their products by the end consumer. But today, in light of the increase in markets and an ever-growing population of over 7 billion people in the world, the resources for production are now deteriorating and yet, the masses and markets for products continue to grow.

It has now more than ever become necessary for industries to concentrate on the final destination of their products and find new avenues to provide resources for continuous production. Industrialists have now become conscious of the effects of their products to the immediate environment and to the future ecosystem. In short, they are now ready to embrace circular economy.

The idea of circular economy could not come at a better time than this, when environmentalists, governments and the private sector are in tandem with environmental conservation and reducing pollution.

Adopting circular economy has proven to provide opportunities for a country to retain liquidity and therefore open opportunities for entrepreneurship and employment. In essence, it's about resources moving from cradle to cradle, where waste from one process is a resource in other processes, instead of cradle to grave, where the impact created by disposal of products has a negative effect on the environment.

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For instance, in plastic packaging, we start with oil as one of the raw materials and convert it to plastic packaging products which brands use in filling and packaging their products, which are distributed to retailers and eventually to consumers. If these products are disposed, collected and sorted in the right way, recycling is possible. In the short to medium term, the recycled plastic is developed into other products that do not require to be food-safe, but have a long term use.

However, the effectiveness of circular economy remains on the ability of a product to be recycled back into its almost original purpose, but lack of adequate technology and invaluable market conditions are among the issues that are deterring us from achieving circular economy.

Globally, two major industry associations, The Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW) and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation are bringing billions and the influence and commitment of global leaders in the circular value chain — brands, retailers, waste managers and recyclers, governments and financial institutions to mobilise the world to move into a circular economy.

This is in line with the fact that circular economy offers an opportunity to minimise the negative impacts of plastics while maximising the benefits from plastics and their products, and providing environmental, economic, and societal benefits. Circular economy solutions for plastics include producing plastics from alternative non-fossil fuel feedstocks; using plastic waste as a resource; redesigning plastic manufacturing processes and products to enhance longevity, reusability and waste prevention; collaboration between businesses and consumers to encourage recycling and increase the value of plastic products and adopting fiscal and regulatory measures to support recycling, this is according to The Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel (STAP) to the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Plastics and the Circular Economy Paper, 2018.

Additionally, the aim is to increase the volumes of recycled plastic back into packaging material from 2 percent to 60 percent with the remaining 40 percent coming from renewable sources.

Closer home, Kenya is at the forefront of championing sustainability, where government and private sector are working to achieve circular economy. A good example is the Framework of Cooperation (FOC) signed between government through the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) and the private sector through the Kenya Association of Manufacturers(KAM). This is a partnership that seeks to reduce plastic waste in the environment through collection and recycling.

But such initiatives remain a small part of the true circular economy. We also lack a unified plan to assist to achieve a sustainable inclusive circular economy.

KAM’s Kenya Plastics Action Plan set to be launched later this month provides an opportunity for the private sector to establish a collective position and propose solutions on plastic pollution. It is a comprehensive report that lays out a roadmap to achieving an inclusive circular economy.

If properly executed, the Action Plan will result in a comprehensive funding, compliance and monitoring mechanism, which creates awareness, education and commitment from every stakeholder in the value chain, to redesign their role and contribute real resources towards making our circular economy ambition a reality for our future generations.

Additionally, in order to achieve an inclusive circular economy as a country, we must also look into promoting sustainable manufacturing that produces products that are 100 percent recyclable, advance our technology to be more energy efficient with an ability to use recycled material, adopt Internet of Things (IoT) as we move to Industry 4.0 that incorporates smart factory models, with equipment and systems that provide information on input and output of resources, and provides mechanism of balancing these resources to avoid waste.

This will ensure that we provide more employment opportunities through formalizing the sector, as well as more opportunities for skills development. A circular economy will be a sure way of increasing revenue while conserving our environment.

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