Why plastic waste is too valuable to be dumped by the roads


Ms Waithera arranging waste plastic materials at her store in Bondeni Estate, Nakuru. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Plastic pollution has grown into an epidemic in Kenya. From garbage-choked rivers to drainages that regurgitate plastic waste and dirty water, we are facing a real crisis.

As the urban population grows, so is the solid waste management burden. According to UN-Habitat, the greater Nairobi area generates about 3,207 tonnes of waste per day, 20 percent of which is plastic.

Yet Nairobi has just one designated site for dumping waste, and so much of the population opts to throw their waste on the roadside or in vacant slots.

One way of reducing plastic waste is by introducing circularity; that all forms of waste are returned to the economy or used more efficiently. Plastic is too valuable a resource to be thrown away.

A circular economy is restorative and regenerative by design and calls for innovation to ensure that plastics are reusable, recyclable, or compostable.

The promotion of a circular economy is not just an environmental issue. It emphasises the resultant socio-economic benefits of utilising scarce resources by designing a system to avoid waste and keep materials in use longer.

World Resources Institute, research shows that creating a circular economy offers a $4.5 trillion economic opportunity by avoiding waste, while also creating business growth and employment opportunities.

How do we get communities to adopt a circular economy? Changing this mindset calls for various interventions at different levels.

First, communities should be empowered with adequate knowledge, skills, and equipment needed for the adoption of proactive approaches that call for reducing waste, such as using products for as long as possible and recycling them back into the economy.

Such approaches should be customised to meet different communities’ needs. For example, while it is important to think about purchasing state-of-the-art machinery to process waste, it is even more important to go back to the basics and sensitise communities on waste management - how to sort and properly discard waste.

Littering is still a big problem. Working with schools and communities, we should inculcate the culture and discipline of environmental conservation, especially on recycling plastics in our children at an early age.

It is also important for waste collectors to know how to properly collect discarded plastics and where to take them. Without a ready market, waste collection does not bear any economic fruits for waste collectors.

The waste management problem affects every individual and institution. Without a collective approach and the involvement of a broad range of stakeholders, we cannot achieve much.

In this regard, it is encouraging to see various players coming together to tackle waste management.

In Mukuru informal settlements of Nairobi, for example, ChildFund has partnered with materials science leader Dow Chemical, the Association of Waste Recyclers, Nairobi Metropolitan Services, schools, communities, formal and informal sector players, children, youth and women to implement community projects on waste management.

Through this initiative, youth and women, who were previously unemployed, have not only gained knowledge and skills on waste management but have also gained employment.

Urban pollution and climate change are some of the defining issues of our time. Waste being one of the contributors of greenhouse gases affects climate change and it is for this reason that all stakeholders should work together to develop and implement sustainable waste management initiatives.

Chege Ngugi is the ChildFund International, Africa Regional Director.