It is no secret that the quantity and the generation rate of solid waste in the country, and especially in our urban centres, has increased tremendously and this, if not for anything else, calls for the urgent need to salvage the situation before it gets out of hand. This waste menace, and especially that caused by plastic bags, has marred the attractiveness of many major towns, destroying their beauty with their unappealing appearance. According to a study undertaken by Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology in 2014, over 24 million plastic bags are used monthly, half of which end up in the solid waste mainstream. While these statistics may have changed over time, it is clear that plastics pose a challenge in solid waste management in the country.
We must note the fact that plastic bags have become the most common material since the beginning of the 20th century and modern life is almost unthinkable without it. In fact, most of us, if not all, have a plastic bag filled with other plastic bags somewhere in our houses! Unfortunately, what makes it so useful such as its durability, versatility, convenience (light weight) and low cost also create the problem. For example, due to the cost factor – there is excessive use and misuse. Second, some of the plastic bags produced are too thin and fragile to be re-used. This therefore leads to littering, which has become a serious problem in urban centres worldwide. In Kenya, this is evident, with plastic bags waste forming the largest proportion of solid waste.
What is apparent however, is that there is an urgent need for a significant shift in our approach to waste management. While there are no central guidelines to waste management currently, we must appreciate that the government has enacted a number of policies and legal frameworks as well as created institutions and systems at different levels of governance to address waste management. It is therefore commendable that in addition to this, Prof. Judy Wakhungu Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Natural resources while exercising powers conferred under section 3 and 86 of the Environmental Management and Co-ordination Act (EMCA Cap 387), banned the use, manufacture and importation of all plastic bags used for commercial and household packaging.
While some people see the ever growing plastic bags manufacturing industry which provides and sustains livelihoods for many Kenyans as the most affected sector by the ban, it is also important to look at the opportunities this ban has presented. For instance, there is an opportunity for the industries to explore innovative technologies to provide alternatives as well as to manage waste. This might prove slightly costly, but may be the best longer term solution we need. The government through various agencies such as the National Environment Trust Fund (NETFUND) also offer various forms of support – financial and technical advisory services – to entrepreneurs with an eye for recycling plastic waste or producing bio degradable bags and other products. All this is in a bid to move towards a zero waste economy.
In addition to these efforts, there is a National Waste Management Bill 2017 currently under development. This bill, addresses the waste management hierarchy; which consists of options for waste management during the life cycle of waste (product), arranged in descending order of priority: waste avoidance and reduction, re-use and recycling, recovery, and treatment and disposal as the last resort. In a nut shell, the goal of this proposed bill is to promote; waste minimization, re-use, recycling and recovery of waste in a manner that promotes resource-based waste management strategies. The Bill appreciates that Kenya, like many other developing countries, is keen to ensure that it accelerates the pace of its industrial development. Therefore it aims to provide solutions which promote the desired economic growth whilst promoting environmentally friendly behavior.
You are encouraged to contribute towards the development of this bill through public participation hearings that will be open to the public. The Environmental Management and Coordination Act of 1999 stresses the importance of the principles of sustainable development¬ — with public participation in developing policies, plans and processes for the management of the environment being one of those principles. You can also reach out to the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources or through its state corporations like the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and NETFUND.
All in all, the issue of waste management must be addressed as we are all responsible for it. As Kenyans, we should be part of the solution in charting the way forward. Beyond policy development and enforcement and other environmental management initiatives, environmentally friendly behavior is better driven from an individual approach, whereby each and every one of us is particularly conscious of how we impact the environment in our day-to-day lives. This is guided by the belief that no one willfully destroys the environment.
So to deal with this plastic waste menace and enable its sound and resourceful management, both the top-down and bottom-up approaches should be used. Policy strengthening and implementation is also key. Stakeholder involvement, not forgetting the public, is also crucial because these engagements will empower us all to better manage our wastes. Be eco-friendly, be plastic free, and go green to keep it clean.