Policy shift towards turning waste into wealth will pay off

Dagoretti residents crossing a clogged culvert. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Recent calls by the Kenya Institute of Public Policy Research and Analysis (Kippra) on the government to encourage circular economy approach to plastic waste management couldn't have come at a better time.

In a new policy brief, the think-tank urged authorities to encourage plastic recycling by zero-rating imported technologies. This will create jobs and reduce the impact of waste on environmental health, according to Kippra.

The call comes hot on the heels of the country's renewed efforts to shift policy on waste management. In July last year, the Sustainable Waste Management Act was signed into law.

Some of the objectives of the Act are to inculcate responsible public behaviour in waste management and promote circular economy practices for green growth. The ultimate goal is to have a clean and healthy environment, and create job opportunities in the green economy.

Currently, most people don't care how they dispose of waste. It is not uncommon to see mounds of uncollected waste at every corner in our neighbourhoods. In Nairobi, for instance, private companies collect waste at a fee from households, but no one cares where they dump it. Given that Dandora Dumpsite in Nairobi was declared full many years ago, it is no surprise many neighbourhoods are littered with waste.

The new law makes it clear that waste must be handled in a way that creates a value chain and leads to reduction of waste or minimal waste taken to the landfill or dumpsite. It roots for a circular economy approach to waste management, which ensures that almost all the waste generated is treated as a resource so that there is nothing left or very little waste is taken to the dumpsite. Under the law, waste will be segregated - putting organic waste separately, plastic waste separately, hazardous waste separately - and each put in clearly marked colour-coded bins or bags.

Waste will be moved to material recovery facilities where it is separated and recyclable materials prepared for marketing to end user manufacturers. In essence, most waste will be used as raw material or input for production lines and at the end of the day, there will be very little or no waste to take to the dumpsite. Zero waste will not only lead to a clean and healthy environment; it will also create more jobs. Countries like Denmark have perfected circular economy approach to waste management and have to source for waste from other countries in order to satisfy the demand for waste. There are great lessons to learn from such countries.

Kenya has made some progress in the shift towards a circular economy. We have many start-up recycling companies that are turning plastic waste into products like plastic poles, bricks, egg trays and carpets. A few neighbourhoods in Nairobi are also experimenting with circular economy and have created designated places for dumping waste that is already segregated. But the impact is minimal considering that in Nairobi alone, about 3,200 tonnes of solid waste is generated in a day and only 45 per cent undergoes some sort of recovery or treatment process.

Counties will play a big role in ensuring that policy shift to circular economy succeeds. All county governments are required to enact their own waste management laws in line with Sustainable Waste Management Act. A model county law is in the works to guide county governments in crafting their sustainable waste management laws. Some counties such as Mombasa and Nakuru have already enacted Waste Management Act based on the idea of circular economy and they will only need to align it to the model law being crafted by the Ministry of Environment. The shift from linear to circular economy approach to waste management will lead to the restoration of the lost glory of our cities, major towns and urban centres.