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We should explore ways of dealing with plastic menace once and for all

OPINION
By Josephine Wawira | July 7th 2021
A section of River Ndarugu completely clogged by plastic bottles near Lake Nakuru National park in Nakuru on June 7, 2021. [Kipsang Joseph,Standard]

Plastic is a double-edged sword.

It is very much a part of our lives, being a packaging material for many of the products we consume and also being a primary or secondary raw material for many items. Its affordability and availability makes it the natural choice for manufacturers and producers seeking to maximise return on investment.

But perhaps the most outstanding thing about plastic is that it does not biodegrade. Depending on its chemical composition, plastic can live in water or in the soil for hundreds of years hurting biodiversity and often ending up in the food chain, which can lead to health complications.

Four years after the ban on plastic carrier bags, we are still operating in a linear economy; we take, make, and we dispose of. This extractive model is not sustainable for businesses, people or the environment. It depletes finite resources, pollutes our environment and contributes to global challenges such as climate change and biodiversity loss. It is crucial that we all endeavour to adopt a plastic free diet going forward. We must shift our focus to a circular economy, with innovations and business models that design out waste, keep materials in use, and protect and restore our environment.

Producers and researchers should rethink and redesign to create a class of plastic that is reusable, and recyclable. It is also possible to create affordable alternative packaging materials made of other biodegradable matter. Those who don’t innovate will most likely fall by the wayside. But more than that, innovation will deliver a future with zero plastic waste.

Circularity, however, is the thing. What this means is that plastics will be designed in such a way that they can be easily put back into the production process to make similar or related products. That eliminates the need to extract finite raw materials from the earth and also keeps plastics within the economy, and out of the environment.

Initiatives that aim to support the government’s existing programmes such as the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) regulations will go a long way in ensuring a future with zero plastic waste. EPR regulations aim to enhance resource use efficiency, stimulate innovation, spur recycling and reduce the amount of waste. It further aims to make producers responsible for the environmental impacts of their products throughout the product chain.

In 2020, Sustainable Inclusive Business, under the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (Kepsa), in collaboration with the Kenya Association of Manufacturers and the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, officially launched the Business Plan Model for a PRO. This is part of the aggressive and continued efforts in addressing Kenya’s challenges in waste disposal and especially plastics. The business plan model is tailored to the Kenyan framework and taking into consideration current draft regulations for the EPR. SIB-K continues to play a critical role, as part of the technical multi-stakeholder committee for EPR; supporting the government and the private sector with expertise, knowledge and network.

A plastics pact, if properly implemented, will help unlock investment in support of the collection, reuse and recycling of waste in an environmentally sound manner. In respect to the health, safety, and rights of all people, including those in the informal sectors, a pact geared towards a common vision among stakeholders; which complements and accelerates existing government programmes, initiatives and policies such as the EPR while involving local actors; and supports the Kenyan recycling sector: Delivering jobs, skills and investment opportunities; is patently a sure bet.

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