It is 2016, in front of a bustling supermarket in one of the areas of Nairobi. Shoppers walk in and out with their groceries and other groceries with plastic bags. These are the order of the day, but their environmental pollution is devastating. A year later, in 2017, the Kenyan government would enact a ban on the production, sale and use of plastic bags. The ban is considered to be one of the toughest in the world and has now achieved a success rate of around 80%.
Fast forward to 2021, we have made tremendous strides in tackling plastic pollution as a nation, with a ban on specific single-use plastics in all protected areas taking effect from June 2020. There is a ban on specific single-use plastics in all protected areas. also ongoing and ambitious plastic initiatives in the country, such as the Kenya Plastic Action Plan and the development of the Kenya Extended Producer Responsibility Organization (KEPRO). The PRO, once established, will ensure that plastics are collected, sorted and recycled after use; giving producers significant responsibility for the post-consumer phase of single-use goods under a scheme called Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).
However, as we applaud these advances, I would also like to understand that more needs to be done to increase momentum in efforts to address the environmental crisis; especially as we continue to face the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have just entered another period of containment, and as the pandemic continues, so do the use of single-use masks, disinfectant bottles and other related plastic products. All of this, ending up somewhere in the environment. Online food orders have increased as we stay more and more indoors. Does your food delivery almost always include plastic cutlery that you just throw in the trash because after all, you have better options at home? Can restaurants reduce or even completely eliminate plastic cutlery for home deliveries at least? We still lack many means in terms of plastic waste management.
Many companies continue to face the challenge of reducing and even reusing plastics, especially where knowledge and information about sustainable alternatives is lacking. This is evidenced by the many inquiries made to Sustainable Inclusive Business, the knowledge center of the Kenya Private Sector Alliance. The organization has been at the forefront of defending the rapid transition from a linear economy to a circular economy; including the establishment of a functioning plastics system. One such request was received from a hotel in Sagana, a booming tourist destination in Kenya.
The owner of the hotel wrote: “Here I have a problem getting rid of all the plastic bottles that campers and other guests leave on my site. We used to burn this in a hot water boiler, but the smell is a problem. Although I always “melt” them to reduce volume and place them in the camp landfill, I would like a better solution which I seem unable to find.
“All of our trips to Mount Kenya have dedicated garbage collection containers / carriers and plastic bottle collection by participants. However, as the Honorary Director of KWS, I am embarrassed by the lingering dirtiness on this mountain (as opposed to, say, Mount Kilimanjaro). Unfortunately, little is done by park officials to enforce the recently introduced regulations and standard operating procedures regarding waste,” he added.
This example illustrates the urgent need for a collective intervention, if we want to move faster towards the achievement of the Vision 2030 Agenda as well as the Sustainable Development Goals.
There is a way; a recipe for better plastics management
Plastic pollution is one of the most serious threats to the health of the planet. In Kenya, 73% of all plastic waste generated is not collected and only 27% is collected: 8% collected for recycling and the remaining 19% disposed of in landfills or unsanitary landfills. This is what a recent IUCN report indicates. The effects of pollution on the ecosystem go very far; from rainforests to the deepest ocean pits and onto our food chains when plastic waste is consumed by fish and livestock. From producers to consumers, we are all in danger and must therefore take a collective stand on a common solution. A plastic pact.
Lessons from around the world, as outlined by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy, indicate that countries that have implemented a plastics pact are successfully phasing out unnecessary plastic components and items. They are also moving towards alternative materials where new proven and stimulating reuse and recharging operations have been implemented in stores. In addition, countries with plastic pacts, in particular the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, France, Chile, South Africa, Portugal and the Netherlands; increase job creation in the collection, sorting, recycling and manufacturing sectors, spurring action and stimulating foreign investment, among other important steps.
Based on these indicators, the development of a plastics pact in Kenya will be a major recipe for better management of plastic waste. A pact will bind all stakeholders in the plastic value chain to adopt a common vision in which plastic will never become waste. It will further stimulate industry-led innovation, dialogue and collaboration to create new business models, generate employment opportunities and remove barriers to move towards a circular economy for plastics, with better economic outcomes, environmental and societal in general.
In the right direction
As a country, we have so far taken bold steps that have placed us on the world map as pioneers in the fight against plastic pollution. We are just getting started and together we can do more to find more sustainable and sustainable solutions for plastics. I am convinced that being consciously aware of and responsible for our cultures of plastic consumption and waste disposal; Knowing what to dispose of, creating systems for reuse and recycling, and moving plastics through the economy and out of the environment, will go a long way.
Hard-working Kenyans are all around us, using their passion 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 sustainable and environmentally friendly fence posts. The project, whose products are widely used across Kenya, has created more than 300 jobs and has done much to save the environment from more than one million kilograms of plastic waste. If you and I join Lorna and the countless other Kenyans and companies with innovative solutions, we will collectively create a bigger impact.
Private companies, government entities, NGOs, researchers and other stakeholders will not be left behind on this journey. With a common pact and vision, we can move faster towards a healthier and more resilient future.
Josephine Wawira is Communications Manager at Sustainable Inclusive Business.
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