OPINION

Managing the end-of-life of products for a circular economy

In Kenya, plastic waste disposal remains a major challenge

In Summary

•.Studies have shown that there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050.

•Marine life will be at risk if we do not act to mitigate the improper disposal of plastic.  

A man shows plastic waste collected during a beach clean-up in Malindi on January 9, 2020/
POLLUTION: A man shows plastic waste collected during a beach clean-up in Malindi on January 9, 2020/
Image: ALPHONCE GARI

As the world continues struggling with proper waste management, different solutions have been suggested and adopted to manage the end-of-life of products, especially plastic and electronics.

In Kenya, plastic waste disposal remains a major challenge. Plastic litter and dumped waste are degrading the environment— the impact of plastic pollution is felt across the world, with over 8 million tonnes of plastic finding its way into oceans every year. 

Even more troubling is that less than 10% of all plastic waste ever produced has been recycled, while 79% ends up in landfills, dumps, or the natural environment. 

With the increasing demand for plastics and rising pressure for its safe disposal, proper plastic disposal has gained a lot of attention in recent years.

One of the options being aggressively explored is on managing plastic waste in a way that can benefit both the environment and companies in the sector. Enters the concept of extended producer responsibility.  

The extended producer responsibility 

At the heart of the concept of extended producer responsibility is a practice and a policy approach in which manufacturers take responsibility for the management of the disposal of products they produce once those products are designated as no longer useful by consumers. Responsibility for disposal may be fiscal, physical, or a combination of the two. 

Extended producer responsibility is a product-focused strategy that encourages environmentally friendly design and disposal of products through the transfer of this responsibility to product producers.  

Locally, we have made progress on various fronts.

The Government of Kenya through the Ministry of Environment and Forestry has published the Environmental Management and Coordination regulations 2020, a framework for the sector to form Producer Responsibility Organizations.  

The Producer Responsibility Organization will drive collective Extended Producer Responsibility in the country, whereby a producer’s responsibility for a product is extended to the post-consumer stage of a product’s life cycle, whilst turning plastic waste into valuable resources.  

The development of this business model is a critical step towards the establishment of such an institution, and it is relieving that the government at the highest levels have shown goodwill and keen on providing necessary support at the policy and implementation level to support the swift shift from a linear economy to a more sustainable circular economy.

However, this challenge requires a coordinated and concerted approach with the private sector expected to take additional responsibility. 

We have also seen a lot of interest and general goodwill from the development partners and foreign missions including the Embassy of the Netherlands and European Union.

According to a primer prepared by the Sustainable Inclusive Business, the knowledge center under the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA), an EPR is one of the surest ways of implementing the “Polluter pays principle” including mainstreaming of circularity in Kenya’s economy.

The aim of EPR regulations is to enhance resource use efficiency, stimulate innovation, spur recycling and reduce the amount of waste destined for final disposal. 

When established, the Producer Responsibility Organization is projected to increase the capacity of Kenyan companies to take responsibility for plastic waste.

It will also contribute to job creation, directly within the entity, as well as indirectly for hundreds of waste collectors in the country.  

Need for proper waste management practices among businesses 

The key aspect for the success of this framework is the commitment from the producers to promote proper waste management practices among businesses.

This starts with an effective collection and aggregation system as well as general public sensitization on proper waste disposal.  

The framework also outlines a mechanism that requires all producers to be responsible for setting up take-back mechanism by which all end of life products need to be channeled back to authorized collection centers and recyclers with a target of 30% take back by 2024.  

It is in light of this reality that the private sector continues to collaborate with various actors to champion the move to a cradle-to-cradle model.

Manufacturers in Kenya, through the Kenya Association of Manufacturers as well as retailers through the Retail Trade Association of Kenya (RETRAK), have already made known their commitment.

It's therefore a crucial time for other industry players to join the conversation and encourage recycling and reuse of plastic bottles among other waste components. 

Within an environmental context, henceforth, plastic products must be designed for recyclability, and extended producer responsibility encourages design for recycling while discouraging the use of toxic components in the product.

Finally, extended producer responsibility meets increasing consumer demand for environmentally friendly products that can easily be recycled or are manufactured using recycled content based on the concept of a circular economy.  

The circular economy aims to change the paradigm in relation to the linear economy, by limiting the environmental impact and waste of resources, as well as increasing efficiency at all stages of the product economy. 

It is safe to say, that the motivations for extended producer responsibility practices include a mixture of economic, environmental, and social factors.

Kenya has the opportunity to take a lead across the continent through an effective and forward-looking approach to waste management.  

The writer is the communications officer of the Sustainable Inclusive Business, under the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA)Foundation.

josephine@sustainableinclusivebusiness.org