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Kenya’s new paradigm shift in waste management

Written by
Dr Ayub Macharia
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As you walk around your locality, there is a tendency to see a lot of waste littered all over. The situation looks alike throughout the country. Do you know that every Kenyan generates an average of 0.5kgs of waste every day? Nationally, this translates into over 22,000 tons of waste per day for a current population of 45 million translating to 8 million tonnes annually. It is estimated that 40% of the waste is generated in urban areas.

Inventories estimate that 60% to 70% of waste generated is organic, 20% plastic, 10% paper, 1 % medical waste and 2% metal. Inefficient production processes, low durability of goods, unsustainable consumption and production patterns lead to excessive generation of waste.

Across Africa, there is a widespread linear approach model based on make, take, use and dispose, which is subsequently followed by poor waste management practices, uncontrolled dumping sites, litter and garbage in the streets and rivers, pollution of air and water bodies.  It relies heavily on use of large quantities of natural resources, use of cheap and easily available materials which are then disposed to the environment. This model is reaching its limits as resources diminish, climate change impacts hit harder, population grows, coupled with pollution, unsustainable consumption habits, high levels of   unemployment, inefficient energy use among others. The linear model is overstretching the earth limits, calling for the need to rethink materials. 

Currently, all counties operate a linear model for waste management whereby the mixed waste is collected and dumped in open dumpsites. The waste pollutes the environment degrading its aesthetics, leaches into groundwater reservoirs, harbours disease causing organisms and wastes resources.

Circular economy is the new paradigm shift and is an economic model for tapping into  environmental and economic opportunities in material circular loops by  designing  and redesigning out waste and pollution,  extracting   maximum value from resources,  closing material loops, creation of  new value from materials that would otherwise  have  been  wasted and regeneration of natural  systems. Circular economy in waste management involves handling discarded materials as commodities for reuse rather than for disposal, and conserving them through waste prevention, recycling, composting, and other technologies.

Circular economy model could help recover all valuable resources from waste and in the process provide jobs and livelihoods through reuse, recycling, and composting. Only about 5% of the waste remains and this is disposed in sanitary landfills. This is the recommended waste management model for Kenya and which the Ministry of Environment and Forestry has recommended from now going forward.

The country is expected to migrate to a circular waste management approach to recover all the valuable resources from waste, reduce dumping in our environment and save costs associated with waste management. Circular approach will also contribute to the Big 4 Agenda on enhanced food security, manufacturing and universal health.

Waste management is a devolved function to Counties. National Government is tasked to provide overarching policy for waste management. The Ministry of Environment and Forestry has already developed a Sustainable Waste Management Policy and Bill, building on the Constitution of Kenya (2010) and the Environmental Management and Coordination Act (1999, Revised 2015). The policy and bill are expected to streamline waste management in all counties. The policy and bill advocate for sorting of waste at source and expansion of waste management infrastructure such as material recovery facilities, reuse centres, composting sites, recycling plants and sanitary landfills. There will no more need for dumpsites as mixed waste will not be generated from homesteads, institutions and commercial enterprises. The little mixed waste that could be generated through for instance sweeping the streets will be sorted and valuables removed.  

Kenya is in the process of finalizing the Extended producer responsibility (EPR) regulations for all waste streams. EPR is an environmental policy approach in which a producer’s responsibility for a product is extended to the post-consumer stage of a product’s life cycle, i.e. when a product turns into waste. This is expected to ensure that those who market products that finally generate waste invest in waste management. This regulation is expected to increase the number of participants and resources committed to waste management. Once enacted, it will eliminate laggards and open up numerous opportunities in waste management.

Each waste stream players are expected to establish a Producer Responsibility Organization to spearhead implementation of the EPR scheme for the specified waste stream. It is expected that each PRO will spearhead investment in appropriate infrastructure and technologies in waste management. These additional investments are expected to generate many job opportunities in Kenya.

For the country to achieve these objectives, there is need for working with stakeholders and partners. Partners are needed to fill the following gaps

  1. Provide technical and financial support in implementation of circular economy model
  2. Assist the private sector in development and implementation of Extended Producer Responsibility schemes for diverse waste streams.
  3. Capacity building for waste handlers, enforcement agencies, public awareness.
  4. Development of appropriate infrastructure for waste management.

In addition to the support highlighted above, the government has to formulate other enabling policies to incentivize reorientation of investments to support circular economy. For instance, markets for organic fertilizer and recycled products have to be deliberately and proactively generated. This requires new policy shift to diversify types of fertilizers and development of new standards to accommodate recycled products.

In conclusion, Kenya has made a bold step in shifting waste management approach from linear to circular. This will lead to expansion of investment opportunities and wealth creation as waste will be considered as a resource. There will be no more wastage of resources and maximum value will be extracted from all waste streams.

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