Leveraging on Youthful Innovations to Promote Circular Economy

By Phyllis Wakiaga

Across the world, youth innovations are driving significant change.

In our country, inventions by young people have positioned us conspicuously on the global map. Roy Allela, 25 invented a Smart Hand Glove that converts sign language into audio speech. The invention that has won him international accolades, was developed on the basis of reducing the stigma associated with being deaf. Another brilliant innovation was by Kelvin Gacheru. He developed Mobi – Water, a smart solar-powered water system, which seeks to improve monitoring consistency in water supply and assist to curb Kenya’s prevailing water shortage crisis.

Is it possible to apply these youthful innovations to waste management? Today, the most visible environmental challenge in the country is uncollected solid waste and particularly plastic bottle waste. A spot check across all major cities and towns reveals that there is an increase in the amount of waste disposed off due to a rising population in urban areas that are yet to establish proper waste management mechanisms.

Waste management simply denotes accountability of all waste generated, appropriate disposal and where possible recycle for re-use.

For instance, the city of Nairobi produces waste at a rate that outpaces its capacity to collect and dispose of it in a safe and environmentally sound manner. This therefore, necessitates a paradigm shift in thinking.

An assessment conducted by National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) reported that, traditional end-of-pipe solutions to waste management problems only deal with symptoms of poor management and not the root cause. As a result, Nairobi and its environs have resigned to indiscriminate dumping and littering of solid waste.

In order to fully address this perennial issue, young, fresh and innovative waste management practices must be initiated and realized.  However, to achieve desired results, we need to provide adequate support and develop policies that will encourage young people to aggressively venture into proactive inventions.

In fact, there are already youthful waste management initiatives taking root in many local communities in the country. These initiatives are pulling together young men and women and tasking them to take responsibility of the cleanliness and wellbeing of their immediate environment.

One such initiative currently in Nairobi, particularly in Dandora Area is the Customer Bora Program. Customer Bora is pulling together out-of-school youth in Dandora, which is among the most affected in regard to waste pollution, and according them an opportunity to be part of the much needed change in their environment.

The initiative spearheaded by Dandora HipHop City (DHC) in collaboration with Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM), has set up multiple waste collection stations referred to as Taka Banks where consumers can responsibly dispose of their waste be it plastic, tin or paper for recycling. Further to this, waste management system goes beyond just encouraging proper disposal, it rewards depositors.

In addition to this, the Changing Faces competition hosted by the Public Space Network has jolted young people to develop transformational waste management initiatives to modify the appearance of their neighbourhoods. This year alone, the competition hosted a Nationwide competition in which about 136 youth groups submitted their designs. This is a clear indication that young people are taking charge of the environment.

Another initiative that supports the inclusion of youth and Women in waste management is PETCO Kenya. With more young people engaging in PET waste collection, PETCO Kenya ensures that they have a formidable recycler, willing to purchase their waste volumes, and in return, they get to build their economic status.

As these initiatives scale up, the scope of the management efforts already in place will substantially increase and have the potential to be adopted nationally.

It is crucial that we continue to encourage young people to proactively practice waste management, it is the necessary entity to achieve a change in a national perception towards a circular economy.

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