Waste management is a shared responsibility

By Phyllis Wakiaga

As Kenya hosts the third annual United Nations Environmental Assembly in December 2017, the theme; ‘Towards a pollution free planet’ epitomizes our social, economic and development goals and aspirations as a country.

Challenges in waste management are quite prevalent not just in Kenya but globally. Although mitigation efforts have been put in place in other countries, the problem is exacerbated in developing countries due to high population growth and the attendant rapid and sometimes unplanned urbanization. There are many reasons why but the main ones are infrastructural inadequacies – a failure of existing infrastructure to cater to growing populations and changing consumption trends or habits.  Increasing economic activities, dynamic technologies and a rising middle class have led to increased consumption and rising amounts of urban waste.

Urban centers and cities bear the largest share of the burden in waste management issues the world over, as can be witnessed in Nairobi. Landfills of waste are found along roads or outside people’s homes and businesses, including in the city’s central business district. Additionally, the major urban sprawl across the country has compounded the problem of waste management. This challenge has not only had a negative impact on the environment but has equally affected the health and wellbeing of the citizens who live in the most affected areas.

The challenge in waste management is multifaceted; ranging from recycling, generation of waste, separation, behavior change, collection, transport, treatment, reuse and disposal.  It’s a problem that must involve all stakeholders at diverse levels; from households, traders, manufacturers, private sector companies and governments. Every individual has a role to play to make this world a better place.

The big question that arises as to ‘who should take responsibility for our waste management?’

For a long time, the sole responsibility for waste management had been relegated to the National and County governments. However, increased populations and increased demands for Government services has stretched thin their capacity to deliver sustainable impact in this regard.

In the past, a few private companies and corporates have on an annual basis organized various clean up exercises as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives.  Their success has not bore much fruit and lacks measurability as to the impact made. Some form of organized waste management by recycling companies does exists especially for solid waste like plastics, paper and glass, but the effort is patchy, uncoordinated and occurs in a legal and legislative vacuum.

However, as this issue persists and becomes more complex, stakeholders are realizing the urgent need to come up with collaborative methods of approach. One such partnership is the formation of the PET taskforce, which is a partnership between the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, NEMA and Industry – Under the Umbrella of KAM. The goal of this partnership is to address the challenge of the PET Plastic bottles waste disposal by developing a take-back scheme that looks at managing the waste through recycling whilst at the same time providing sustainable jobs to citizens.

The take-back scheme is based on an end to end model involving all stakeholders on the entire value chain that is factory-customer-private collector-to recycling of these materials. These kinds of models have been found to be the most effective. The initiators are currently working on the basic principles of the model which are in the process of being rolled out. The success of this model is critical in demonstrating that industry led initiatives can provide solutions to intractable problems for which an easy government solution is not available, and will provide a template for other waste management initiatives across the country.

Kenya is a trailblazer in a lot of spheres in Africa, to address our environmental concerns, various stakeholders will be required to play different roles.  The biggest challenge will be influencing the disposal habits of citizens, an area I believe that strong partnerships at all levels can play a big role.

In addition to the take-back scheme, a more systematic approach is needed in managing waste from disposal to recycling. The development of The National Waste Management Bill 2017 that seeks to establish an appropriate legal and institutional framework for the efficient and sustainable management of waste in the framework of the green economy, demonstrates our commitment as a country in dealing with waste.

As leaders converge this week in Nairobi, it is my hope that we can forge the right partnerships that will steer us in coming up with sustainable waste disposal mechanisms for Kenya.

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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