Embracing circular economyWednesday February 08 2023
There are reasons why citizens must use resources more efficiently. Last year, Kenya and Europe faced inflation that nearly hit 10 percent and most households were affected.
For many years, we have harvested the earth’s resources too intensively and nature is clearly affected. Luckily, both European Union (EU) and Kenya have committed to more efficient resource use through a circular economy.
It is economically and ecologically unsustainable to extract virgin materials — water, oil, minerals, metals, and wood among others — to keep the economy growing.
We need to shift to an economy where materials are used efficiently, are kept in the loop and become fully circular.
Today it looks much cheaper to make plastics from virgin oil rather than to recycle. We all prefer cheap options.
The same goes for water, wood, and metals. Legislators in Kenya and the EU, however, have decided not to let future resource use be determined by volatile market prices only.
They have both passed regulations to push for more sustainable and circular practices.
In 2022, Kenya passed the Sustainable Waste Management Act. The Environment ministry, together with the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) are preparing the implementation of Extended Producer Responsibility regulations.
When in force, they will ensure that any firm that puts a product, for example, a bottle on the market, will be responsible for the fate of the entire product (and not just the content).
Other ongoing initiatives include rules for labelling of polluting products, better sorting of waste at source and mandatory establishment of Material Resource Facilities in all counties.
Read: Climate change action must start with our local communities
In 2020, the EU adopted a new Circular Economy Action Plan. Like Kenya, it seeks to ease the pressure on natural resources and create more sustainable growth.
It seeks to make sustainable products the norm across the entire EU – that is for over half a billion consumers.
It targets the sectors that use the most resources and where the potential for circularity is high such as electronics and ICT, batteries and vehicles, packaging, plastics, textiles, construction and buildings, food, water and nutrients.
A design issue
The problem and solution starts at the design phase, rather than introducing circular economy as an afterthought. This is big business.
For example, the latest Maersk container ships, the Triple-E class, is designed to have a “digital product passport” (also an EU requirement).
The digital product passport is an online database holding a detailed inventory of the ships’ components that can be used to identify and recycle the components to a higher degree than is currently possible.
As a result, when the ship is decommissioned, there is already a plan for how to sort, process and re-use the 60,000 tonnes of steel used to build the ship.
The materials, therefore, maintain their inherent properties and hopefully command a better price when re-purposed.
In short, businesses should design products in ways that are cheaper from a life-cycle perspective, even if they cost a bit more up-front.
Many Kenyan entrepreneurs in this field already do a remarkable job: Gjenge Makers create tiles out of plastics, thereby avoiding the mining of cement and sand.
Leafylife develops cooking fuels and construction materials from diapers. WEEE Centre is one of Africa’s largest recyclers of electronic waste, extracting components and metals for reuse.
Bio Foods have reduced plastic in their milk bottles by 30 percent through re-design and now makes their yoghurt cups from 100 percent repurposed Kenyan plastics.
InsectiPro produces protein sources and fertilizer from organic waste. Vuma biofuels replace firewood as fuel by creating sustainable energy briquettes from discarded sugarcane husks.
Moyee Coffee develops fertiliser from coffee waste. Sanergy creates sanitation infrastructure in informal settlements and creates fertiliser and animal feed from it.
Read: Kenya's steady march to sustainable businesses
Zijani reclaims used vegetable oil from hotels and restaurants and turns it into biodiesel. Discoverbrands collect plastics and use them as “ink” in their 3D printers.
And these are only a few of the Kenyan circular solutions.
With Kenya’s water scarcity, circular water processes are key. Several European companies – even abattoirs and dairies – have committed to become “zero-water-plants” where all the water used in processes is collected, locally filtered and re-used.
Also in Kenya, a growing number of companies are increasing their efforts in water recycling and reuse. East African Breweries have committed to increase water use efficiency by 30 percent across the company.
The “no-waste-thinking” is not new. Anyone who saw their grandmother take a chicken apart will know that there was a plan with every part of it – meat, bones, intestines, pluming.
In the industrial age, this has often been left out because resources were cheap, regulation absent and complexity high.
Now resources are becoming expensive, regulations are put forward and our knowledge has improved. In short: It’s a new framework and European and Kenyan businesses can take advantage to position themselves for the future.
Ms Tuya is the Environment CS, Mr Mamo is the DG, Nema, Mr Brouwer is the Ambassador of the Netherlands to Kenya and Mr Thonke is the Ambassador of Denmark to Kenya.