What does transition from linear to circular economy in waste management in Kenya entail?

Written by
Dr Ayub Macharia

The Ministry of Environment and Forestry finalized the Sustainable Waste Management Policy and Bill which were adopted by Cabinet on 28th May 2020. The policy and Bill will be tabled soon for discussion in Parliament. The Policy and Bill propose a radical shift in waste management from linear to a circular economy model.

A linear economy is a business model that prioritizes the take, make and dispose philosophy. Resources are extracted from the earth and used to manufacture products for consumption after which the residuals of this consumption are disposed in a landfill or are incinerated. Linear approach model is subsequently followed by poor waste management practices, uncontrolled dumping sites, litter and garbage in the streets, rivers, pollution of air and water bodies.

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. This model advocates extraction of maximum value from waste.

The current waste management intervention intends to transition from Linear to the circular model. The plan is to immediately transition into the circular model through implementation of the Sustainable Waste Management Policy and Bill.

The transition from linear to circular economy would require new infrastructure development and other investment in the following areas:-

  • Waste separation at source by individuals and institutions is a key priority. This will require installing color coded bins where different fractions of segregated waste will be deposited prior to being taken out of the house. The current practice of having one waste bin in a room to receive all waste has come to an end. It will be an offense to generate mixed waste in the same bin.
  • Enhanced public awareness will need to be done to explain to the public of the new requirements in waste management. This awareness will be done in such a way that waste will be regarded as a resource and not a nuisance. The aim of the public awareness is change of public attitude and behavior in waste handling so that each member of the society becomes careful and place waste in appropriate receptacles. This is an expensive consumptive venture as it will involve use of public forums, mass media, social media, and print media among others. This investment is necessary especially at this time when we have the COVID-19 challenge which demands that masks and gloves as well as other medical waste be handled with a lot of care.
  • Appropriate collection for different waste fractions such as organic waste, recyclables and other waste. Waste generated from households and institutions will need to be accumulated at a central receptacle where the waste collector will pick it. This demands for color coded receptacles in public places and specialized trucks. The current practice of mixing all waste in one chamber is not feasible in a circular model. The trucks have either to be specialized to carry one stream of waste or have compartments for different waste fractions to avoid mixing.  
  • Capacity building for waste service providers is critical and should be prioritized with emphasis on handling of waste potentially contaminated by COVID-19. These service providers need to be sensitized that it is no longer business as usual since waste will be delivered in different destinations such as material recovery facility, composting facility, recycler, incinerator or to a sanitary landfill among others.
  • Establishment of Material Recovery Facilities near waste generation areas to assist in further sorting of waste and selling of valuable waste for recycling. These facilities are expected to provide employment and livelihood opportunities to many youths and women. These facilities require investment in basic machinery to assist in waste sorting and baling for ease of transport. Capacity building for operators of material recovery facilities should also be prioritized with emphasis on handling of waste potentially contaminated by COVID-19.
  • Composting plants to convert organic waste to fertilizer are needed to receive Kenya’s organic waste which is estimated to be 60% in composition. This is a major investment and may require bringing onboard big investors in this sector from abroad. Success on this front will require the government to undertake policy changes to provide appropriate incentives as assurance for investors. Markets for the organic fertilizer can be deliberately enhanced for instance if Counties can buy the organic fertilizer for urban beautification, while the national government can recognize the organic fertilizer and consider it within the fertilizer subsidies. In addition, organic waste can be used for making energy briquettes, animal feeds and biogas.
  • Recycling of valuable waste fractions which constitute 35% of waste composition will be enhanced. Many components in our waste are recyclable and it is expected that many companies will invest in this area. The high population in Kenya is enough assurance that we have adequate volumes of recyclables to sustain the investment. To further reassure investors, the government will invest in policy guidance to prioritize life cycle analysis to restrict use of materials and packaging made of unrecyclable materials.
  • Development of engineered sanitary landfills to receive the waste that cannot be recycled will be prioritized. Currently all waste is dumped in dumpsites and these have to be decommissioned. Since 95% of this waste is valuable, the dumpsites will no longer survive and new investments will be done to establish properly engineered sanitary landfills to handle the residual 5% waste.  This is a capital intensive venture as several landfills are required across the country.
  • Data management on waste traffic is a major investment in waste management to enhance decision making. A Waste Information Management System will be established at different layers including institutional, County and National Level.

Mainstreaming climate change and waste management issues in the curriculum at all levels will also be prioritized. The Kenya’s Paris Agreement Commitments includes emission reductions emanating from poor waste management. Guidelines on climate change and waste management mainstreaming in curriculum at all levels of learning will be developed. Training will be done for curriculum development experts and other education experts on education for sustainable development as required in SDG 4.7 with emphasis on matters of climate change and waste management. This is also a capital intensive venture.

In conclusion, it is evident that Kenya has made a bold move towards promoting circular economy practices where waste will become a resource and not a nuisance. It is expected that this transition will open up job and livelihood opportunities for hundreds of thousands of Kenyans. Not many countries have treaded this route and Kenya is a pioneer whom many countries are likely to benchmark with.  Investment in public awareness, capacity building and training will ensure that we nurture knowledge, skills and behavior change to sustain the transition to circular economy in waste management.

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