Plastic Free Day: How can Kenyan businesses take responsibility for plastic waste?

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Unsightly landfills and litter in parks and even beaches continuously choke our environment.
Unsightly landfills and litter in parks and even beaches continuously choke our environment.

By Karin Boomsma

NAIROBI —
For decades now, the world has almost entirely depended on a linear economy that focuses on taking, making, using and disposing of finite resources. This cradle to grave model is fixed on an industrial mindset where producers assume the resources they use are unlimited and therefore are never restored.

In this case, short-term profits are placed at the top of the pyramid, at the expense of people and planet. Ultimately, contaminated air and water become just some of the inevitable outcomes of the lopsided pressure applied on the ecosystem.

One of the gravest impacts of the linear economy has been irresponsible disposal of plastics, especially single-use, on the environment. Unsightly landfills and litter in parks and even beaches continuously choke our environment.

A trend report by Sustainable Inclusive Business Kenya, indicates that 79% of plastic waste ever produced now sits on landfills, dumps or the environment, while 12% has been incinerated and only 9% has been recycled globally.

In Kenya, plastic recycling stands at a meager 10%. If this trend continues, the report warns, our oceans could contain more plastic than fish by 2050. By jeopardizing the environment’s ability to effectively provide its indispensable provisions, we reap the unfortunate consequences of ill-health as microplastics from disposed waste find their way into our food chains and bodies.

As the world commemorates the International Plastic Free Day on July 3 with an aim to raise awareness on the negative impacts that plastic has on the environment, perhaps it is our time to look beyond and begin, if not already started, the shift towards a circular economy (CE).

The advocacy for this model is based on its emphasis to redefine growth, by focusing not only on the profits, but also longer-term positive impacts on the planet and its people.

In CE, waste is considered part of the system (a resource or material that should stay or become an input over and over again), and is reintroduced into the cycle to regenerate other products. This reduces the amount of plastics and other wastes disposed into the environment.

Promoting proper waste management practices among Kenyan businesses

Kenya as a country has made major strides in the effort to transition from linear to a circular economy. In 2017, the country banned the use, manufacture, and importation of the infamous plastic carrier bags.

This was followed by a ban on single-use plastics in all protected areas including parks and beaches, beginning June 5th. Both measures aimed at dealing with the very insensitive plastic disposal practices among Kenyans, whose adverse effects on the environment have been alarming.

To successfully implement the ban and hopefully phase out the plastic menace, Kenya’s proposed Waste Management Bill recommends the establishment of a Producer Responsibility Organization (PRO). The role of the membership organization will be to ensure plastics are collected, sorted and recycled after use.

In this case, the private sector will bear significant responsibility for the post-consumer phase of single-use goods under a scheme referred to as an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).

This includes both financial and/or physical, such as the cost of disposing and or recycling post-consumer goods; a factor that is expected to promote proper waste management practices among Kenyan businesses.

In view of this, Sustainable Inclusive Business under the KEPSA Foundation in collaboration with the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM), is already in the process of developing a business model for a PRO.

This is with the support of the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO) through the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Kenya. When completed, the PRO is projected to increase the capacity of Kenyan companies to take responsibility for plastic waste.

Furthermore, it will also contribute to job creation, directly within the entity, as well as indirectly for waste collectors in Kenya.

In conclusion, understanding the relationship between human actions and environmental changes is crucial in appreciating the government’s rigorous measures. However, their success will not be without the participation and support of the private sector, in bringing together all different and urgent cross-sectoral topics to drive towards a low-carbon economy.

From businesses to individuals, let us all strive to adopt circularity, based on the principles of rethinking, redesigning business models to ones that build not only economic, but also natural and social capital, reusing and recycling.

— The writer is the director of sustainable inclusive business Kenya


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