Kenya needs a proactive approach on plastics

Many predicaments in life can seem insurmountable, until human creativity and non-conventional approaches are applied.


In Bijapur, India, citizens can trade in four plastic bottles for one cup of tea. In Rome, Ecuador, Istanbul and Indonesia, one can get bus tickets and free transport for trading in plastic bottles. A casual apparel chain in Tokyo has announced a partnership with a top factory to produce clothing made from recycled plastic bottles next year.


The predicament of plastic waste in the environment has led communities and countries around the world to look for practical, creative and easily-applicable avenues to manage plastic waste, starting with PET plastic bottles. According to McKinsey, plastic waste will grow to approximately 460 million tons per year by 2030 if the demand for plastics continues to grow by its current trajectory.


Global consortiums and alliances are alive to this fact, and, in response, have started taking concerted steps towards progressively creating value for plastic waste, thereby reducing pollution, and kick-starting a circular economy. A circular economy aims to keep the earth’s scarce material resources in a continuous loop of use and re-use by eliminating ‘waste’ and creating new product cycles. To date, over 400 signatories including global manufacturing companies such as L’OrealUnilever and Nestle have signed the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment mooted in October 2018 by the UN Environment and Ellen McArthur Foundation. 


The commitment binds companies and governments to changing how they produce, use and reuse plastics. It ensures forethought and futuristic innovations that will ensure that plastics stay in the economy and out of the environment.


In appreciating that we are part of this Global economy, Kenya is making its own steps towards a lasting solution to the issue of waste management albeit in a somewhat fragmented way. Examples include the Customer Bora Initiative, which is run by young people in collaboration with Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM), in different parts of Nairobi. They incentivize customers to trade in plastic bottles for food items such as bread, flour and sugar. There’s also the Project Shule initiative which is driving proper disposal awareness in schools around the country, to start inculcating the value of waste in young minds.


However, it is critical to contextualize our efforts within the global discourse and trajectory on the circular economy as a country, and by doing so, institute a tangible road map towards a circular economy.  


In January of 2019, Manufacturers and stakeholders in the plastic sector value chain initiated the Kenya Plastics Action Plan. The Plan, launched this week, aims to ensure the environmentally sustainable use and recycling of plastics by applying the principles of a circular economy in Kenya. This acknowledges the benefits accorded by the continued use of plastic, as a useful cost-effective material in our nascent and growing economy, and takes the challenge of plastic waste as an additional opportunity to create jobs and industry in new economic models. Once it takes root, through the support of all stakeholders, it is hoped that this plan can be scaled to include other forms of ‘waste’ as well. 


To this end, the plan has identified specific actions that the public and private sector need to undertake to realize a clean and safe environment for all. These will include waste management efforts at the county level; Formation and regulation of Extended Producer Responsibility schemes, and establishment of recycling value chains and standards. This plan is intended to work through inclusive and broad stakeholder engagement, as well as progressive policy recommendations to catalyze the transition towards a circular economy on all levels. 


Industry’s call is for Kenya to pursue a circular economy as a core element in our development approaches. It is paramount that the National and County governments focus on incentivizing industry players to participate in such initiatives. This includes predictable enforcement of policies that not only promote regulation of the plastic value chain but also encourage innovations and investments in the recycling industry.


So far, we have seen a progressive move in the 2019 Finance Act to exempt from VAT all services offered to Plastic recycling plants and supply of machinery and equipment used in the construction of these plants; as well as lowering corporation tax for the first five years to 15% for any investors operating a plastic recycling plant. This is quite encouraging, as it signals to a synergy towards the achievement of our economic goals. 


As I said in the beginning, some mountains may seem impossible to climb, especially if we try to do it in isolation. We can overcome them by acknowledging that to get to the peak we all have a significant role to play, and we leverage each other’s strengths, ideas and more importantly our shared vision for the country, to achieve our objective of a clean and sustainable environment for future generations.  

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