Transition from linear to circular economy in waste management

A garbage truck drives past Tom Mboya Avenue leaving behind unfriendly filth in the environs. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Kenya generates an estimated 22,000 tons of waste per day calculated by assuming an average of per capita waste generation of 0.5 kilogrammes for a current population of 45 million translating to 8 million tonnes annually.

It is estimated that 40 per cent of the waste is generated in urban areas. Given that urbanisation is increasing by 10 per cent, by 2030, the Kenya urban population will be generating an estimate of about 5.5 million tonnes of waste every year, which is three times more the amount of waste generated in 2009.

Past inventories estimate that 60 per cent to 70 per cent of waste generated is organic, 20 per cent plastic, 10 per cent paper, 1 per cent medical waste and 2 per cent metal.

Unfortunately, most waste is mixed together and taken to dumpsites or left uncollected, polluting the environment. Kenyan streets and pathways do not miss a few to many pieces of litter in form of packaging or non-packaging items discarded after end of use.

Some of the reasons for littering is because the items are considered to be of little value. The people’s attitude while littering is that the county government will clean it up and dispose it appropriately.

Devolved function

Waste management is a devolved responsibility under the Constitution of Kenya 2010. However, most counties lack adequate infrastructure, governance mechanisms and dedicated funding for effective sustainable waste management. Many have not set aside land for building waste management infrastructure.

As the scale of future urbanisation increases, waste management will pose growing socio-economic, environmental and institutional challenges if adequate measures are not put in place.
Some of the products imported into the country comprise of complex molecules and our local technology is still lagging behind.

The country does not have the capacity to process all types of products and packaging manufactured or imported in the country. Hence if the status quo is maintained, littering in our environment will continue.

However, this scenario is destined to change. The Ministry of Environment and Forestry has finalised the development of the Sustainable Waste Management Policy and Bill that was approved by the Cabinet on 25th September 2021. The Bill was tabled in Parliament on 1st September 2021 and is in the final stages of enactment.

In addition, the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Regulations 2021 have also been finalised after comprehensive consultative process. The Sustainable Waste Management Policy will be launched on 4th March 2022 during the [email protected] celebrations. The Ministry of Environment and Forestry has already commenced capacity building for Counties on how to transition to circular economy as provided in the SWM Policy.

The main goal of the Sustainable Waste Management (SWM) Policy and Bill is to transition waste management from linear to circular economy whereby maximum value is extracted for job and wealth creation. Circular Economy refers to initiatives for designing and redesigning out waste from products, extraction of maximum value from natural resources, closing of material loops and creation of new value from materials that would otherwise have been wasted. A circular economy considers waste as valuable and efforts are made to recover all the valuable fractions.

Role of citizens

According to the SWM Policy (2021), citizens are key players in the management of waste. They are consumers of goods and services, generators of waste, main players of waste minimisation and sorting at source. Their participation or lack thereof, determines the success or failure of the adoption and implementation of waste management initiatives.

The Policy and Bill compels citizens to install three bins at home or commercial facilities for disposal of segregated wet organic, dry inorganic waste and special waste fractions. The wet organic waste includes vegetable peals, fruit peels, rotten vegetables, rotten fruits, left over food, leaves from backyard plants among others. Dry organic waste comprise of paper, plastics, electronics waste, glass, etc. Special waste comprise of nose masks, diapers among others.

The shift from disposal of mixed waste at household level to “sorting of waste at source” is a new paradigm shift which the citizens need to embrace. The citizens generate recyclable materials, organic and other complex waste which going forward will have to be segregated and disposed appropriately, and this is key in the realization of sustainable waste management.

Special sites

The waste service providers will no longer carry mixed waste to dumpsites. Instead, the waste will be taken to a composting facility (for wet organic waste) and to a Material Recovery Facility (MRF) (for dry inorganic waste). The composting and MRF sites are expected to create employment opportunities for many people based on the volumes to be processed.

Material Recovery facilities shall be established in all counties, preferably close to the source of waste generation. These waste collection centres shall be established with the help of county government and assigned to organised groups to manage them. All waste collected shall first go to MRFs and only the sorted residual materials should then go to a waste-to-energy or landfill facility.

These organised groups will be engaged in further sorting of waste at the material recovery facility and selling the recovered materials to recyclers and other users. This will be a source of employment and income generation for the youth and other vulnerable groups. Only five per cent of the waste will not be useful and this will be transported by the county governments to the sanitary landfills.

All existing dumpsites shall be closed gradually and decommissioned. This signifies an end of the era of open dumpsites in Kenya. Counties that have been struggling with public resistance while establishing dumpsites will now relax as they only require small pieces of land to develop a sanitary landfill. Dumping of organic, recyclable, electronic, end of life vehicles and hazardous waste at dumpsites and landfills is prohibited.

Citizens are expected to play a major role in waste management under the new provisions of the circular economy. Some of their roles includes segregation of waste at source – by having differently colored bins at home and using them appropriately.

Paying for waste management services – they must subscribe with NEMA licensed waste handlers to transport their waste from their homes to the material transfer stations or composting sites.
Monitor compliance to the law and report illegal waste dumping.

Not burning waste since this is harmful in terms of producing toxic fumes such as furans and dioxins. and not dumping waste in non-designated places. The areas near the homesteads must also be kept clean. 

Finally there should be no disposal of mixed waste