Why accelerating circular economy is a no brainer for Kenya

By Anthony Mwangi

The concept of a circular economy is increasingly being recognized globally as crucial for achieving global sustainability goals. This concept has been gaining traction across industries in recent years to promote sustainability and waste reduction. The transition is particularly important as most industries rely heavily on finite resources or generate significant amounts of waste. As I will expound shortly, embracing circular economy principles is not an option if we hope to accelerate long-term sustainability and reduce environmental impact. It is no longer acceptable for businesses to focus solely on their bottom line without considering the long-term impact of their actions on the environment and society. The Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) has been at the forefront advocating the prioritization of our efforts towards sustainable future through this model. Indeed, KAM has expanded its Centre for Energy Efficiency (CEEC) to the Centre for Energy Efficiency, Green Growth and Circular Economy.

By definition, a circular economy is a concept of creating a system where resources are reused and recycled to minimize waste and maximize efficiency. The linear approach is unsustainable because it contributes to the depletion of natural resources and the generation of significant amounts of waste while by contrast, in a circular economy, the focus is on reducing resource consumption, extending the life of materials, and increasing the overall value of goods and services. This keeps materials in use for as long as possible, thereby reducing the need for new resourcesThere are several examples of a circular economy but of primary concern is the closed-loop recycling. This process involves collecting materials such as used plastic bottles, old newspapers and used cardboard and transforming them into new products. For instance, plastic bottles can be transformed into a variety of toys, such as blocks, puzzles and figurines. These products are safe, non-toxic and easy to clean. This creates a whole new industry.  

Embracing circular economy by example could involve among others, manufacturing products using recycled materials in production, and implementing systems where waste materials are reused or recycled. In the construction industry, the practices could include using modular building systems that can be disassembled and repurposed, designing models that are easier to disassemble and repair, and recycling or reusing construction waste. In agriculture, these principles may involve reducing food waste, using regenerative farming practices, and adopting circular supply chains that minimize waste and maximize resource efficiency. 

The benefits are tremendous. By reducing waste and maximizing the use of resources, businesses will save money, improve their reputation, and contribute to a more sustainable future. In addition, the circular economy can stimulate innovation by encouraging businesses to develop new products and services that are more sustainable and efficient. 

While at it, we cannot forget the big global agenda on climate change. The consequences of global climate change have been far-reaching. Locally the country has been experiencing several seasons of drought and change in climatic pattern. This has led to rising sea levels, increased heatwaves and famine that has affected millions of Kenyans in over 24 counties. The impact on our livelihood, health, food security, water availability and our economy has been significant yet brutal. The current linear economy is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, which are driving climate change. By adopting circular economy  we can help mitigate the impacts of climate change moving forward by reducing waste and promoting sustainable production and while safeguarding our climate. 

A shift to a circular economy is not a walk in the park. There are heavy investment costs associated with the transition such as investing in new technologies or redesigning products. However, the long-term benefits are crystal clear. Companies that will embrace circular economy principles will reduce their environmental impact, lower their operating costs, and improve their reputation among consumers who prioritize sustainability. Additionally, by reducing their reliance on finite resources, they can future-proof their business against resource scarcity and price volatility. 

While the transitioning to a circular economy is not without its own challenges, it requires a committed shift in mindset, increased deliberate effort as well as collaboration across industries, supply chains, and stakeholders. The Government can also play an important role to incentivizing circular practices, through policies such as extended producer responsibility schemes, regulations, and standards to promote recycling and better water management and tax benefits such as tax reliefs to industries that embrace circular economy. 

KAM Manufacturing Priority Agenda (MPA) 2023 that we launched recently, highlights actions needed to enhance environmental and sustainable regulatory compliance. Some of our tangible proposals to accelerate the transition to a circular economy include the implementation of the National Sustainable Waste Management Act 2022. Under Section 13, the act obligates all producers that introduce products specified under schedule one of the regulations, to the Kenyan market, to bear mandatory Extended Producer Responsibility (EPRs) for the post-consumer stage and their products’ lifecycles.

In conclusion, the benefits of a circular economy are numerous. By reducing waste and maximizing the use of resources, businesses can save money, improve their reputation, and contribute to a more sustainable future. In addition, the circular economy can stimulate innovation by encouraging businesses to develop new products and services that are more sustainable and efficient. 

Companies must embrace the circular economy if we are to create a sustainable future. The transition to a circular economy is not just a matter of environmental responsibility, but also economic necessity. By working together to create a more circular economy, we can build a more sustainable, resilient, and prosperous future for all and while at it accelerate closing the loop towards a circular economy. 

The writer is the Chief Executive of Kenya Association of Manufacturers and can be reached at ceo@kam.co.ke 

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