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Current status on dealing with plastics in Kenya

Written by
Dr Ayub Macharia
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Kenya has been engaging with plastics pollution for over 10 years. These engagements could be considered in 3 phases namely the 1. polythene bags ban, 2. PET bottles agreement with private sector, 3. the ban on single use plastics in conservation areas and 4. provision of incentives to the private sector.

1. Polythene bags ban

On 28th February 2017, the Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources while exercising powers conferred under section 3 and 86 of the Environmental Management and Coordination Act (EMCA Cap 387), issued the Gazette notice No. 2356, banning the use, manufacture and importation of all plastic bags used for commercial and household packaging. The gazette notice notified the public that this ban will take effect from 6th month from the date of the notice. The plastic bags ban came into effect on 28th August 2017.

Kenya has since attained over 80% success in ban enforcement. But challenges have been experienced with enforcement since some of our neighbors still use polythene bags and the same are illegally imported to Kenya.

2. Framework of Cooperation with Private Sector on PET plastic bottles

Polyethylene terephthalate (poly(ethylene terephthalate)), commonly abbreviated as PET is a thermoplastic polymer resin of the polyester family. It is commonly used in making clothing (polyester fabric), containers for liquids and foods among other uses. Globally, over 60% PET is used for production of synthetic fibres and 30% for containers/bottles production.

Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) is popularly used for packaging food and beverages, pharmaceutical and personal care products due to its inert, moisture barrier material and shatterproof nature. PET is also light weight and is therefore easier to transport. PET is 100% recyclable and is ranked the most recycled plastic in the world.

Despite its positive properties, concern has been raised regarding the pollution associated with the improper disposal of PET bottles. The harmful effects of plastic PET water bottles includes

  • PET bottles slowly release a chemical known as bisphenol-A (BPA) into liquids stored therein. These chemicals have harmful health effects such as altering the body hormonal balance.
  • Although PET bottles may be recyclable, most are disposed as litter.
  • The PET litter does not decompose and instead stays in the environment for hundreds of years.
  • PET litter makes the environment less attractive and unhealthy.
  • PET litter blocks storm drainage systems causing flooding especially in urban areas.
  • Cleaning up PET litter is an expense to taxpayers, consuming money that could have been used for other purposes.

In October 2017, the PET task force, a partnership between KAM, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (ME&F) and the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) was established. It was envisioned that through this task force, both the private sector and government would support each other in management of waste PET bottles.

Through a series of consultative meetings with the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, a Framework of Cooperation (FoC) document was developed. This document was signed on 17th May 2018 between the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, KAM and NEMA. The purpose of this Framework of Cooperation is the implementation of the take back schemes and Extended Producer Responsibility for the PET bottles.

Under this Framework of Cooperation, Parties agreed to collaborate and KAM to establish and implement a structured and sustainable “Take Back Schemes” and Extended Producer Responsibility schemes for PET bottles. KAM’s obligations under this FoC included to:-

  • Establish and implement the agreed Take Back and Extended Producer Responsibility schemes for PET Bottles.
  • Undertake clean-up activities on PET waste Bottles before the schemes are fully implemented in partnership with the ME&F and relevant agencies. 
  • Conduct awareness campaigns to support the established schemes implementation, re-cycling and up-cycling.
  •  Support research to meet mutually agreed measures to be undertaken under this Framework of Cooperation.

The Ministry of Environment and Forestry obligations under this FoC include;

  • Foster collaborations between the PET Sub sector under KAM and the County Governments in the disposal, collection and recycling of PET waste bottles.
  • Promote and engage in national public education and awareness campaigns on responsible use and disposal of PET bottles based on best practices.
  • Facilitate inter-governmental relations amongst county government and government agencies to support the objectives of the Framework of Cooperation.
  •  Formulate necessary environmental policy, legislation and measures to support the goal of the Framework of Cooperation.

The Parties established a National PET Management Committee as a joint public-private partnership committee to support implementation and monitoring of the proposed goal and objectives established under the Framework of Cooperation. The Committee reports to the Cabinet Secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry.

The Committee membership is made up of:

  1. Representatives of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry.
  2. Representatives of the National Environment Management Authority.
  3. Representatives of the Council of Governors.
  4. Representatives of the Ministry of Industrialization.
  5. Representatives from the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (including PETCO).

The mandate of the Committee include:

  • To monitor the implementation of this Framework of Cooperation.
  •  To prepare and submit quarterly progress reports to the Cabinet Secretary of Environment and Forestry. The progress report of the activities under this Framework of Cooperation will be developed and signed by the duly authorized representatives of the Parties.

Since its inception, the National PET Management Committee has developed and submitted M&E reports each quarter as required by the FOC. In addition, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry provides written feedback to KAM on the submitted quarterly reports highlighting areas of improvement.

The PET engagements between ME&F and KAM has led to increased investment in plastic recycling and upsurge in volumes of PET bottles recycled. Kenya is now recycling over 2000 tonnes of PET per year.

In addition, the PET engagement has compelled the private sector to develop a plastics action plan to guide their operations, which was launched on 4th December 2019. The Action plan reiterates the need for mandatory extended producer responsibility scheme to raise required resources to promote PET waste management.

In response to the demand by the private sector, which is reiterated in the Plastics Action Plan, the ME&F is developing an Extended Producer Responsibility Regulations. The regulations require all producers, converters, importers and distributors of products to bear responsibility to ensure proper disposal emanating from introduction of their products in the market. These regulations will be subjected to public participation in February 2020 with an expectation to finalize it in June 2020.

3. Ban on single use plastics

After banning the polythene bags in February 2017, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry also felt the need to upscale this initiative by addressing pollution by other plastics especially the single use plastics with a priority on PET bottles. In September 2017, it extended a ban on the use of the disposable PET bottles in Karura Forest and the National reserves and Game Parks, a move aimed at conserving and protecting animals and nature within this ecosystem. This helped to minimize pollution in the parks. However, this restriction was not legislated.

The President of Kenya on 4th June 2019 announced a ban on single use plastics in all protected areas, including: National Parks, beaches, forests and conservation areas, effective June 2020. This directive was legislated on 5th June 2019 by the Cabinet Secretary for Tourism and Wildlife, through Gazette Notice No.4858, while exercising powers conferred under section 116(2) (d) of the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act, 2013. The government banned the use of plastic bottles, straws and related products within the protected areas in the national parks, national reserves, conservation areas and any other designated wildlife protected areas from 4th June 2020. The prohibition through Gazette 4858 buttresses and codifies the earlier one by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry in 2017 and expands the products and scope to other protected areas around the country.

The Ministry of Environment and Forestry consulted diverse lead agencies and the private sector players such as KAM and PETCO Kenya to agree on implementation of this ban. There is consensus that the following items constitute single use plastics, which are the subject of the ban: –

  1. Cotton buds
  2. Cutlery, plates, straws and stirrers
  3. Sticks for balloons and balloons
  4. Food containers (some fractions of plastic polymer)
  5. Cups for beverages (some fractions of plastic polymer)
  6. Beverage containers (PET bottles)
  7. Cigarette butts
  8. Bags
  9. Crips packets, sweet wrappers, bread bags and confectionery wrappers
  10. Wet wipes and sanitary items.

The Ministry of Environment and Forestry has already informed the private sector players of these categories of products so that they can provide feedback on polymers in each category that may not be categorized as single use plastics. The private sector players were expected to sensitize their membership about this development. The government is currently working with the private sector to agree on the steps to be taken to implement the ban.

4. Incentives for plastic recycling

The government has also come up with incentives to promote cleaning of plastics from the environment. The 2019/20 national budget statement prioritized the exemption from VAT for all services offered to plastic recycling plants and supply of machinery and equipment used in the construction of these plants. The government also reduced corporation tax from 30% to 15% for the first five years for any investor operating a plastic recycling plant. Further, the government deleted the provision for charging Excise Duty on plastic shopping bags to align it with the Environmental Management and Coordination Act which banned them from use.

This gesture by the government has the capacity to encourage new investment in plastic recycling plants, create jobs and support environmental conservation as aspired under the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) No 12 “Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns”. This gesture is in tandem with the other efforts by government of strengthening legal and policy framework, providing incentives to the private sector as well as establishment of EPR schemes.

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