PET Bottle Recycling Chain: Transitioning to the Circular Economy

By Phyllis Wakiaga,

The convenience and hygiene offered by plastic bottles for beverages is a commonly accepted fact all over the world. We have become accustomed to even keeping and reusing plastic bottles that we have purchased, in our homes, places of work and recreational spaces.  But do we stop to think, what happens each time we discard one plastic bottle for a newer one?

The unprecedented growth in the use of plastic as a packaging material has further complicated already inundated solid waste management systems across the globe. The knee-jerk reaction would be to pronounce avoidance of all plastic especially, given reports of clogged drainages and the visible adverse effects on rivers and oceans.

This reaction however well-intentioned is circumscribed, in view of sustainable actions to save and conserve the environment for both humans and natural life. However, the problem at hand presents an opportunity for us to rethink solid waste management and how we can employ enduring solutions that will save our planet and at the same time incorporate our day-to-day needs for convenience and hygiene.

There are several approaches that we can consider with regards to disposal of plastic waste;

Manufacturers, through the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM), have taken measures to encourage the recycling of single use plastics in Kenya.

We believe that plastic bottles are not trash. When they are recycled they are made into new useful products like brushes, brooms, clotheslines, pegs, drinking straws, and other household items.

Recycling plastics is useful because it keeps them out of our environment and there are plenty of jobs created in the process.

This is why we have recently announced a bold, ambitious goal: to help collect and recycle up to 20% of disposable and reusable bottles in 2018. Regardless of where it comes from, we want every plastic water bottle to have more than one life.

Through extended producer responsibility and take-back schemes, we have created a comprehensive recycling system and structure that involves consumers, garbage collectors and recyclers and eventually manufacturers in a recycling value chain, guided by circular economy principles.

To make it sustainable and to foster a culture of responsible dumping, KAM is set to run a six-month anti-littering and awareness campaign. The campaign will help people understand how to recycle and upcycle plastic bottles, and where to recycle. We will also encourage people to reuse and repurpose plastic bottles as many times as possible, rather than being used once and then thrown away.

We believe that beyond ensuring a clean environment, we can harness plastic bottles to supporting manufacturing sector, particularly for industrial use. With the recent set up of PETCO, we are confident that the recycling will flourish as the industry matures and the public learns how to recycle properly.

To scale the campaign, we have signed a Framework of Cooperation withNational Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and Ministry of Environment and Forestry. We will also enter into strategic partnerships with county governments countrywide to help develop more effective recycling systems that meet each community’s unique needs. We aim to make recycling easier and more accessible for everyone.

Importantly, we will be working with all stakeholders to help achieve policy changes that support a truly circular economy and a more holistic view of material use, collection, and reuse.

We are confident that the initiation of innovative eco-friendly strategies and comprehensive recycling schemes will create new avenues of employment for waste collectors and recyclers. We believe that when properly planned and guided, the informal sector like the one that has created businesses in Dandora can become a sustainable model for other East African nations.

Roping in the sector by providing tools and training modules for waste collectors will not only aid in job creation but will also promote responsible and sustainable management of waste trickling down to the consumer level.

Recycling represents a systemic shift that builds long-term resilience, generates business and economic opportunities, and provides environmental and societal benefits. In other words, plastics aren’t necessarily bad for the environment; it’s the way we dispose of them that’s the problem.

If we understood plastic bottles’ true worth, we would stop wasting it on trivial throwaways and take better advantage of what this versatile material can do for us and our economy. We need to rethink plastic bottles, and it doesn’t have to be expensive.

The writer is the CEO of Kenya Association of Manufacturers and the UN Global Compact Network Representative for Kenya. She can be reached at ceo@kam.co.ke.

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