Firms grapple with conservation after ban on plastic bags

Plastic containers for sale on display at Kariokor market in Nairobi. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NMG

What you need to know:

  • It's back to the drawing board to address tough government stance on single-use plasctic.

When William Ngoa Ziroh mobilised 14 local youths to collect garbage in his Mikindani neighbourhood eight years ago, he did not know that his future would be in the growing solid waste management industry.

Ziroh was tired of the eyesore that was uncollected garbage that littered his home area in the outskirts of the port city of Mombasa.

He also hoped to help alleviate unemployment under his Parking Youth Project (PYP).

His efforts almost came to naught in 2013 when the youths quit. They lost interest in garbage collection because it was not as lucrative as they had initially thought. Ziroh, 38, had an important decision to make.

“They took off after they realised there was no money in this business. In 2014, I saw an opportunity in garbage collection and decided to register the project as a business and employed the first worker. Now I have seven employees,” he says.

The Business Daily team met Ziroh on September 13 in his one-room office at the Mikindani shopping centre. The entrepreneur said he was back to doing what he loves most as the owner of KYP Waste Management, an offshoot of his failed youth project.

The outfit serves Mikindani households and surrounding Export Processing Zone (EPZ)-based companies.

“I secured waste management tenders from seven EPZ companies. I collect carton, polythene, plastic, and clothing waste at least twice a week. I sell the waste to recycling firms.”

Kamongo Waste Paper Company buys cartons, Coast Blankets buys pieces of clothing as one of the raw materials in the production of blankets, while Modern Soap Factory buys plastics and polythene for use in the production of buckets and basins.

Ziroh is one of thousands of individuals in Kenya who make a living from solid waste management in urban centres. The industry is growing with the increasing population and rising economic activities that generate a huge amount of garbage. Among the challenges that the stakeholders in solid waste management face are limited capacity and lack of an efficient system to curb environmental degradation.

"The biggest hurdle I face is funding to expand my business," Ziroh says. "It is impossible to save money and invest in equipment because of high operational costs. Space is also another challenge. If I had a larger piece of land I would have sought more garbage collection jobs and started a line to sort the waste for recycling."

His yard measures 40 by 60 feet and he pays Sh10,000 in monthly rent. Other overheads, he says, include high transport costs because he hires trucks for waste collection.

Waste management and environmental conservation have become a big issue in Kenya.

After the ban on polythene carrier bags on August 28, 2017, businesses under the umbrella of the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (Kepsa), the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM), and other lobby groups including the Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations (Kara), had to go back to the drawing board to address the tough government stance on single-use plastics.

Ms Karin Boomsma, director at Sustainable Inclusive Business, a knowledge centre established under the Kepsa Foundation in partnership with MVO Nederland and with the support of the embassy of the Netherlands, believes businesses can play a pivotal role in the push for efficient solid waste management.

“Businesses are super powerful because if you get them to do the right things – having a positive impact on people and the planet – then you will change a lot in one go," she said at a recent forum that Strathmore Business School organised in Nairobi.

To achieve sustainable business models, Boomsma has called for radical changes in government policies and business practices. "Our current economy is based on a linear model – we take, make, and dispose of. That is unsustainable because that resource will be gone one day, yet we are disposing of everything."The economy is also based on cheap fuel and materials. That whole cheap concept should be changed because it is not cheap for the environment and it is unsustainable.

"All the waste we create is food for something else and that creates new things that come back in different ways, shapes, and forms."

One year after the ban on plastic bags, key industry players established the Kenya PET Recycling Company (PETCO) to self-regulate post-consumer polyethylene terephthalate (PET) recycling.

“Manufacturers and consumers agree there is a problem. The manufacturers decided that it was important to deal with post-consumer PET for them to have a sustainable business,” PETCO Country Programme Manager Joyce Gachugi Waweru told Business Daily.

“For us in the PET space think we can make a difference because PET is highly valuable material. It can be recycled many times. We don't need to dispose of it and let it go to the landfill.”

This year, the company has set a target to recycle 6,000 tonnes of PET out of the consumption of 20,000 tonnes, Waweru says.

According to the Environment ministry's National Sustainable Waste Management Policy 2019, Kenya generates about 22,000 tonnes of waste every day on the assumption that an average of per capita waste generation of 0.5 kilogrammes for a current population of 45 million, translating to eight million tonnes annually.

"Inefficient production processes, low durability of goods, and unsustainable consumption and production patterns lead to excessive generation of waste. Therefore, as the population increases and rates of production and consumption go up, the estimated volume of waste generated from households, industries, agricultural services, construction, and facilities will increase exponentially."

Waweru says all industry players and individuals should be held to account for the waste they generate in factories and households through deliberate efforts to minimise careless dumping of garbage that could easily be recycled into other useful products as well as curb pollution.

"At the national level, we need to have mandatory extended producer responsibility. That means we want anyone who is bottling in PET, packaging, or converting resin into PET to join a producer responsibility organisation like PETCO," she says.

The company works in partnership with KAM, Kepsa, civil society, Kara, and the government in a multi-pronged strategy to deal with the problem.

"We discovered when we were starting that this problem is collective in the sense that it requires more than just us to provide a solution," she adds. "We have seen the government step in and provide some tax rebates, which is a very good move because it gives us comfort that it is taking recycling seriously."

However, Waweru expressed concern that many firms involved in PET bottling and packaging have not put in place tangible measures to recycle plastic materials, thus abetting the problem of littering.

“At present, PETCO has 14 members that control close to 60 per cent of the market. However, 1,000 companies are registered as water bottling and beverage firms.

“If you look at the bigger picture, there is more that is out than in. In two to four years our members will not be able to finance the collection of PET bottles outside their volumes because each member pays for what they produce. We cannot ask them to pay for others. So that becomes a challenge.”

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