[Column] Tobias Alando: Key learnings from the waste management journey
How do you manage waste at home and your place of work? Do you reuse and recycle products after the first intended use? Do you segregate waste or put everything, from organic waste, plastics to paper, in one bin for the garbage collector to segregate?
The discourse on proper waste management continues to centre day-to-day conversations in Kenya. Citizens have raised concerns regarding waste along roads, in rivers and outside commercial and residential buildings. This conversation has also shifted from boardrooms to social media platforms where Kenyans have had heated debates, including why we throw waste out of windows whilst on transit.
The perception of waste as an unwanted material with no intrinsic value has dominated attitudes towards proper waste disposal. Yet, waste is a critical resource with the potential to transform the lives of Kenyans through the creation of jobs and wealth.
Each one of us has a role to play in realizing Kenya’s circular economy by adopting sustainable waste management principles. A circular economy looks at eradicating waste systematically through the life cycle and uses of a product and its components. This represents a systematic shift that builds long-term resilience, generates business and economic opportunities, and provides environmental and societal benefits.
Recycling waste is essential in closing the loop created when recyclable material is disposed of as waste. Furthermore, where waste disposal is unavoidable, it must be controlled to safeguard human health and the environment. This calls on us to segregate waste at the source, reuse products until their value is exhausted such as shopping bags and dispose of waste through the right channels.
A circular economy is a key focus for Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) in ensuring the sustainability of our local manufacturing sector and the economy. In 2019, we launched the Kenya Plastic Action plan, a private sector-led action plan to drive Kenya’s circular economy. We did so with the conviction that, without a roadmap, it would be impossible to arrest the waste management challenge in the country and turn it into an economic and environmental solution. One of the key outcomes of the Plan is the launch of the Kenya Producer Responsibility Organization (KEPRO). The second EPR initiative in the country brings together players in the waste value chain to address post-consumer waste in Kenya. Furthermore, KAM in partnership with like-minded organization are in the process of establishing producer responsibility organizations to manage electronic waste and the hazardous products packaging, among other waster, in line with the draft Extended Producer Responsibility Regulations, 2021.
Through concerted efforts between public and private sector players, we have seen an increase in investments around waste management. We have also had critical learnings in the process.
First, there is a need to develop necessary waste management policies and laws at the national and county levels to effectively coordinate and manage these functions. The Sustainable waste Management Act, assented into law earlier this month, is a step in the right direction. The Act establishes a robust legal and institutional framework for sustainable management of waste to ensure the realisation of the constitutional requirement on the right to a clean and healthy environment. It provides mechanisms for policy, coordination and oversight of waste management, and promotion of a circular economy for green growth by, among other provisions, establishing the Waste Management Council whose mandate includes overseeing the implementation of the national sustainable waste management strategy.
Second, enhanced waste management infrastructure in the country for solid and waste management is essential. This is through responsive budgeting to the increasing environmental needs in the country on environmental management initiatives, especially in low economic areas such as slums.
Third, we must incentivize the waste value chain to enhance investments and attract new investments in the sector. Not only with the investments grow, but the environment will also continue to thrive sustainably.
Lastly, it is crucial that the country reviews the littering consequences and measures to ensure that the growing littering culture is addressed. Critical for this is continuous awareness and education.
We need to strengthen our will towards waste management through various efforts, as a nation, including inculcating it in our education system from the primary level. As individuals, we need to cultivate a strong ethos of respecting and protecting our environment and natural resources, for better living.