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September 20, 2018

Taking stock: The plastics debate

A trader holding on to his load of the newly introduced Eco-friendly reusable bags along Haile Selassie Avenue, Nairobi following the ban on plastic bags  by the Government effective on August 28,2017.
A trader holding on to his load of the newly introduced Eco-friendly reusable bags along Haile Selassie Avenue, Nairobi following the ban on plastic bags by the Government effective on August 28,2017.

As the year comes to a close, it is vital to take stock of the past 12 months, with a view to celebrating wins in the year, as well as reflecting on mistakes made. One such win was the implementation of the plastics ban.

Through this move, more than 10 years in the making, Kenya once again took the world stage, making her firm stance against the environmental scrooge that is plastic.

While critics claim that the ban is heavy-handed, coming at a cost that some claim is untenable, particularly in terms of job losses in the manufacturing sector; the majority praise the move as a show of strength and commitment to environmental preservation.

However, and notwithstanding the discourse degrading the above, we must all concur that the use of plastics in our day- to- day lives is at an all-time high. The world revolves around plastic, with each of us interacting with plastics, or plastic derivatives, on a day- to -day basis: from our vehicle interiors, to our cell phones; from our children’s toys, to our toiletries. Arguably, plastics are here to stay, whatever we may do. However, looking at the environmental degradation statistics, plastics may well lead to our doom, beneficial properties aside.

The problem, however, may not necessarily be plastic itself, but rather our lacklustre disposal mechanisms. About 80 per cent of humanity’s annual solid waste eventually finds a home in our oceans, of which 90 per cent is plastic – to place this in perspective, about 8.8 million tonnes of plastic find a way into our oceans annually.

This problem, ineffective waste management, is more evident in the Kenya of today than it has ever been. Legacy dumpsites are not only hazardous to our environment, but to our health as well. As plastics form a significant portion of these dumps, the plastic ban actively works towards curbing this menace moving forward – however, it does not deal with the historical errors made with respect to waste management.

Over the years, recycling has been touted as being our greatest weapon in waste management. However, unfortunately, the culture of recycling has not picked traction this side of the world. Through recycling, a myriad of problems can be tackled at once.

Notable in this area, is the use of recycled plastics in infrastructure: particularly roads. India, for one, has been using plastics in the road process since 2002, resulting in cheaper yet more durable roads.

Even more promising is a Dutch company that proposes 100% plastic roads, promising increased efficiency, sustainability as well as affordability in road construction. It is high time we consider these alternative uses of plastics as a means to control the environmental degradation caused by ineffective waste management.

Kandie is IDB Capital MD

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