So you want to turn plastic waste into wealth?

The local plastics industry imports an estimated 20,000 tonnes of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) products annually. This is projected to grow at a rate of 10 per cent per year.

However, the industry is achieving a recovery and recycling rate of just around five per cent of the PET products consumed.

As a result, the high volume of available recyclable plastic waste has drawn the attention of environmentally savvy companies and entrepreneurs. Among the investors in the industry is the Kenya PET Recycling Company (Petco), which has signed two recycling contracts with two firms for the collection and recycling of 6,000 tonnes of plastic bottles a month.

Once recycled, these plastics can be turned into new PET containers, or flaked and transformed into all sorts of things, including polyester carpet fibre, shoes, fence posts, furniture, luggage, fibrefill for sleeping bags, vehicle parts or fabric for various clothing.

Petco is hoping to grow the rate of recovery and recycling of PET products to 25 per cent in 2018, and 70 per cent by 2030. Joyce Gachugi, the firm’s country manager, spoke to Hustle about the requirements of starting a plastics collection business.

Joyce Gachugi Waweru (Photo, Courtesy)

What you’ll need

1. Licensing requirements

You need approvals from your county government and the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) to operate a plastics recycling business.

You’ll also require the standard permits and certificates for setting up a company in Kenya, including a business permit and fire safety certificate.

2. Collection centre

Joyce Gachugi says most county governments are willing to work with plastic collectors to manage plastic bottle waste.

This makes it easier to set up a collection centre that’s large enough to store the plastics before you transport them to a recycler, and close enough to the urban areas that tend to produce most of the waste.

3. Collectors

You’ll need to hire people to bring you the plastic waste. The average amount paid for this is Sh5 per kilo. Recruit as many people as possible to increase the waste that’s brought to you as your revenue is dependent on the volume of plastics collected.

However, ensure your recruits are educated on the right types of bottles to collect.

“Not all PET bottles are recyclable in Kenya. If a bottle has a label that’s glued to it, for instance, it is much harder to recycle and will be rejected by the recyclers,” Joyce says.

The numbers inside the triangle on a plastic bottle are also a good indicator of the material used to make the bottle, and its potential for recycling.

Generally, bottles with a 1 or 2 are the easiest type to recycle, and are accepted by most recyclers. More specialised recyclers will also accept bottles with a 4 or 5. These plastics include those used for packaging soda, water, vegetable oil, shampoo, butter and margarine, ketchup and yoghurt.

However, packaging with a 3, 6 or 7 within the triangle tend to carry some harmful chemicals that complicate the process of recycling.

4. Sacks and weighing scale

You’ll need sacks to make the process of storing the various plastics easier and neater, and it will also make transportation more seamless.

A weighing scale will help with measuring how much you’ve collected and the quantity you deliver to recyclers.

5. Safety equipment

Receiving used plastics can expose you to bacteria, especially if the containers had foodstuff and hadn’t been washed. This makes it important to protect yourself. Use gloves when handling these plastics and wear overalls to protect your skin and clothing from any harmful residue.

6. Transportation

Once you have collected a sufficient amount of plastics, Joyce says you can contact Petco, which will link you to its recycling partners. These recycling partners buy waste plastic bottles at between Sh19 and Sh24 per kilo if you deliver them yourself to their facilities, which include a large depot in Athi River, Machakos County.

“If you don’t have transport, the recyclers will send their trucks to you. However, you’ll be paid between Sh14 and Sh15 a kilo,” she says.