By Mucai Kunyiha
Many consider plastic to be one to be of the most revolutionary inventions of the past century playing a significant part in the world economy and people’s daily lives. In fact, its invaluable traits such as versatility, cheap to produce, durable, extremely light and easily available are every reason for its worldwide popularity. Plastic in and of itself is not a menace but a panacea to many of humanities challenges on food safety, environmental footprints and convenience.
Nevertheless, the same characteristics that give plastics their versatility and durability have created their own challenges as they are non-degradable and as such can be a long-standing pollutant that poses a grave threat to the global environment. The issue then, is not the use of plastics, but one of disposal –‘plastic waste’. All the benefits plastics deliver on humanity can be reversed by the counter-effects of unsafe, uncontrolled and poorly managed disposal systems. Plastic waste is impacting our lands, waters and marine life, as well as our food chain and the public health – a matter of grave international and local concern.
The solution, many around the world have come to see, lies in the problem itself – the versatility and durability of plastic also means that plastic can be re-used and re-cycled multiple times without losing its core characteristics. If the waste is properly collected and segregated there is a massive opportunity to create new plastics and new applications for the plastics. There is still life and value in plastic waste. Re-cycled plastics are used globally in as varied applications as making floor and roof tiles, fence posts, as an additive in tarmac and even to make diesel.
The solution, then, is to devise and develop ways and means to collect and segregate post-use plastic so that we can transform it from ‘waste’ to ‘raw material of value’. This is a core principal of the new concept of a ‘Circular Economy’ where the useful life and economic benefit of materials and resources are designed to go beyond a single life cycle and continue to give value. A Circular Economy seeks to both reduce the consumption of resources and generate new jobs and economic opportunities by creating an entire new industry of re-cycling by leveraging the latest innovations, scientific advances and best practices to build prosperity while conserving our environment and resources for future generations.
The Global Momentum
It has became clear that collaboration is needed in tackling plastic waste, to accelerate the transition toward a circular economy and to recover plastic economic value. Collaboration not just in production and manufacturing of these products, but more importantly, in setting up mechanisms and systems that facilitate their recovery, reuse, recycling and end-of-life management as well.
Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom and countries in Europe are already making headway on this front. These economic giants have made commitments toward a resource-efficient lifecycle management approach to plastics in the economy by prioritizing five course of actions. These commitments are embedded in the Ocean Plastics charter launched during the 2018 G7 presidency summit held in Canada. The Ocean Plastics Charter is a long term collaborative initiative that proposes a renewed spirit and approach to environment sustainability with a key focus on water bodies.
Closer home, similar collaborative strategies are being made by the private sector in collaboration with government. In 2018, KAM and other private sector players facilitated the launch of PetCo, Kenya’s first Extended Producer Responsibility Scheme charged with developing and expanding a re-cycling value-chain for PET bottles and materials. KAM and its member companies have also endorsed the Oceans Plastics Charter as a framework for public-private and global approaches to dealing with plastic waste.
In January, key players in the plastic value chain initiated a new platform, the Kenya Plastics Action Plan; a private sector led policy and action plan aimed at enabling a circular economy for environmentally sustainable use and recycling of plastics in Kenya. The plan aims to propose a road map to a Circular Economy for plastics use and waste management in Kenya and identify the specific actions that the public and private sector should undertake to achieve this including waste management at county level, formation and regulation of Extended Producer Responsibility schemes and establishment of re-cycling value chains and standards.
Kenya has the capacity and opportunity to embed environment sustainability in our industrial development even as we look towards achieving the Big 4 Agenda – all of which incidentally have plastics as a necessary component of their success. In doing so, not only will the industry retain and create more employment for out of work citizens, but also a new stream of income from recycling will be generated.
As Ban Ki-moon, Former United Nations Secretary General, said “It is a global challenge that must be met with a different consciousness and awareness. These taxing responsibility must be one that is shouldered by all states, forward looking organizations, companies and the larger share of the human population.”
The writer is the Vice Chairman and PET Sub-sector Chair at Kenya Association of Manufacturers, and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org.