Ideas & Debate

A new plastics waste deal can help Kenya contain pollution

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Plastic bottles for recycling at a plant in Athi River. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NMG

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Summary

  • Kenya’s ban on production, sale and use of plastic carrier bags in 2017 is considered one of the sternest in the world and whose success rate is now recorded at approximately 80 percent.
  • The country has since made tremendous strides in the fight against plastic pollution, with a ban on specific single-use plastics in all protected areas taking effect from June 2020.
  • There are also ongoing and ambitious plastics initiatives such as the Kenya Plastic Action Plan and the development of the Kenya Extended Producer Responsibility Organization (KEPRO).

Kenya’s ban on production, sale and use of plastic carrier bags in 2017 is considered one of the sternest in the world and whose success rate is now recorded at approximately 80 percent.

The country has since made tremendous strides in the fight against plastic pollution, with a ban on specific single-use plastics in all protected areas taking effect from June 2020. There are also ongoing and ambitious plastics initiatives such as the Kenya Plastic Action Plan and the development of the Kenya Extended Producer Responsibility Organization (KEPRO).

The PRO, once established, will ensure plastics are collected, sorted and recycled after use — giving producers a significant responsibility for the post-consumer phase of single-use goods under a scheme referred to as an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).

However, more needs to be done to increase momentum on the efforts to address the environmental crisis, especially as we continue to deal with the ravaging effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. We just entered another lockdown period, and as the pandemic persists, so are the use of single-use masks, sanitiser bottles as well as other related plastic products. All these, endg up somewhere in the environment.

Online food ordering has been on the rise as we increasingly stay indoors. Does your food delivery almost always include plastic cutlery that you just toss away in the dustbin because after all, you have better options at home? Can restaurants reduce, if not completely do away with plastic cutlery for home deliveries at least? There are many ways in which we are still lacking when it comes to plastic waste management.

Many businesses continue to face the challenge of reducing and even reusing plastics, especially where there lacks knowledge and information on sustainable alternatives. This is evidenced by the numerous enquiries made to Sustainable Inclusive Business, the knowledge centre under the Kenya Private Sector Alliance.

The organisation has been at the forefront of championing the swift shift from a linear to a circular economy, including the establishment of a plastics system that works. One such enquiry was received from a hotel in Sagana, a rising Kenyan travel destination.

The hotel owner wrote: “Here, I have a problem with getting rid of plastic bottles that campers and other clients leave. We used to burn this in a hot water boiler, but the smell is a problem. Whilst I still ‘melt’ them down to reduce volume, and place in the landfill on camp, I'd like a better solution which I seem unable to find.”

He added: “All our Mt Kenya trips have dedicated garbage removal containers/porters and plastic bottle collection by participants. However, as a Hon Warden with KWS, I am embarrassed by the continued filth on this mountain (as contrasted with let’s say Mt Kilimanjaro). Unfortunately, little is done by park officials to enforce recently introduced regulations and standard operating procedures regarding litter.”

COLLECTIVE INTERVENTION

This example illustrates the urgent need for a collective intervention, if we are to move faster towards achieving the Vision 2030 agenda as well as the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

There is a way — better plastics management. Plastic pollution is one of the most serious threats to the planet’s health. In Kenya, 73 percent of all plastics waste generated is uncollected. Of the only 27 percent collected, eight percent is for recycling and the remainder is disposed of in unsanitary landfills, according to IUCN.

The effects of the pollution on the ecosystem go far and wide; from rainforests to the deepest ocean trenches and on our food chains when plastic waste is consumed by fish and livestock. From producers to consumers, we are all at risk and therefore must take a collective stance on a common solution.

Lessons from across the world as outlined by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy, indicate that countries which have implemented a plastics pact are successfully eliminating unnecessary plastic components and items. They are also moving to alternative materials where proven and stimulating new reuse and refill operations in stores.

Additionally, countries with plastic pacts, including the UK, US, Canada, France, Chile, South Africa, Portugal and the Netherlands, are increasing job creation in the collection, sorting, recycling and manufacturing sectors, spurring action and boosting foreign investments among other milestones.

If these indicators are anything to go by, developing a plastics pact in Kenya will be a major recipe for better plastic waste management. A pact will bind all stakeholders in the plastics value chain to embrace a common vision in which plastic never becomes waste.

It will further stimulate industry-led innovation, dialogue and collaboration to create new business models, generate job opportunities, and unlock barriers to move towards a circular economy for plastics, with improved economic, environmental and societal outcomes overall.

As a country, we have so far taken bold steps that have put us on the global map as trailblazers in the fight against plastics pollution. We are only just beginning and together, we can do more to find sustainable solutions for plastics.

Being aware about and accountable for our plastic consumption and waste disposal cultures; knowing what to eliminate, creating systems for reuse and recycling as well as circulating plastics within the economy and out of the environment, will go a long way.

All around us, many Kenyans are using their passions for the environment to make a difference. Lorna Rutto is a good example, having founded EcoPost, a social enterprise that collects plastic waste and turns it into commercially viable, highly durable, and environmentally friendly fencing posts.

The project, whose products are used widely across Kenya, has created over 300 jobs and contributed a great deal in saving the environment from over one million kilogrammes of plastic waste.

Wawira is the communications officer at Sustainable Inclusive Business