By Phylis Wakiaga
Kenya’s hosting of the third annual United Nations Environmental Assembly this week, under the theme ‘Towards a pollution free planet’, epitomizes its social, economic and development goals and aspirations as a country.
Challenges in waste management are quite prevalent not just in Kenya but globally. Although there have been mitigation efforts in some countries, the problem is worse in developing countries because of high population growth and the attendant rapid and sometimes unplanned urbanisation.
There are many reasons to it but the main is infrastructural inadequacies—a failure of existing infrastructure to cater to growing populations and changing consumption trends or habits.
Increasing economic activities, dynamic technologies and a rising middle-class have led to increased consumption and rising amounts of urban waste.
Urban centres bear the largest share of the burden of waste management, as witnessed in Nairobi. Landfills of waste are found along roads, outside homes and businesses, including in the Central Business District.
Additionally, the major urban sprawl across the country has compounded the problem of waste management. This challenge as not only had a negative impact on the environment but equally affected the health and wellbeing of citizens in the affected areas.
The challenge in waste management is multifaceted—ranging from recycling, generation of waste, separation, collection, transport, treatment, reuse and disposal.
It’s a problem that must involve all stakeholders—from households, traders, manufacturers, private sector companies and governments. Every individual has a role in making the world a better place to live in.
The big question then is: Who should take responsibility for our waste management?
For a long time, the sole responsibility of waste management had been relegated to the National and County governments.
However, increased populations and demands for government services have stretched thin their capacity to deliver sustainable impact in this.
In the past, some private companies and corporates have, on annual basis, organised various clean-up exercises as part of Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives. This has not bore much fruit and lacks measurability as to its impact.
Some form of organised waste management by recycling companies does exists especially for solid waste such as plastics, paper and glass, but the effort is patchy, uncoordinated and occurs in a legal and legislative vacuum.
However, as the issue persists and becomes more complex, stakeholders are realising the urgent need to come up with collaborative methods of approach.
One such partnership is the formation of the PET taskforce, which is a partnership between the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, Nema and industry. The goal is to address the challenge of plastic bottles waste disposal by developing a take-back scheme that looks at managing the waste through recycling while at the same time providing sustainable jobs to citizens.
The take-back scheme is based on an end-to end model involving all stakeholders on the entire value chain that is factory-customer-private collector-to-recycling of these materials.
The kinds of models have been found to be the most effective.
The initiators are working on the basic principles of the model, which are in the process of being rolled out. The success of this model is critical in demonstrating that industry-led initiatives can provide solutions to intractable problems for which an easy government solution is not available, and will provide a template for other waste management initiatives across the country.
Kenya is a trailblazer in many spheres in Africa.
To address environmental concerns, various stakeholders will be required to play different roles.
The biggest challenge will be influencing the disposal habits of citizens, an area I believe that strong partnerships at all levels can play a big role.
In addition to the take-back scheme, a more systematic approach is needed in managing waste from disposal to recycling. The development of the National Waste Management Bill 2017 that seeks to establish an appropriate legal and institutional framework for efficient and sustainable management of waste in the framework of the green economy, demonstrates Kenya’s commitment in dealing with waste.
As the Nairobi summit gets underway this week, I hope we can forge the right partnerships to come up with sustainable waste disposal mechanisms.
The writer is Kenya Association of Manufacturers CEO