The shift from a linear to a circular economy is critical for Kenya, according to the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM)
We all have that one product whose plastic container we don’t throw away immediately, but instead, recycle it for storing leftovers. By doing so, we are, to some extent, helping to reduce plastic waste. Eventually, however, when the plastic container is old, we throw it away, and it probably ends up in a dumping site. Weathering, such as from waves, sunlight, or other physical stress, breaks the plastic into smaller pieces. This plastic may take up to 500 years to decompose and potentially leak pollutants into the soil and water.
That’s on a consumer level. Now think about it on a manufacturer level. Plastic has a big carbon footprint. By one estimate, emissions from producing and incinerating plastics could amount to 56 gigatons of carbon. The excess emission of greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide by humans leads to the Earth is trapping too much gas in the atmosphere, thereby leading to global warming.
Phylis Wakiaga, who is the C.EO of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, began by giving a broad perspective of manufacturing in relation to industry sustainability. This is in line with Sustainable Development Goal 7 -affordable and clean energy, goal 9- Industry, innovation and infrastructure, and goal 11 which is sustainable cities and communities.
Mrs. Wakiaga spoke about what is being done at the moment. Agenda 5 of the Manufacturing Priority Agenda this year focuses on Industry Sustainability and Resilience. But the journey didn’t start today. In collaboration with the government, K.A.M came up with the Centre for Energy Efficiency and Conservation. Some of the positive effects of this include the innovation of energy efficiency services, specialized training, and consequently reduced carbon emissions by 143,000 tonnes a year.
In attendance was Dr. Ayub Macharia who is the Director of Environmental Education and Awareness at the Ministry of Environment. He introduced the concept of the shift from the linear economy to the circular economy. He said that in order for Kenya to be resilient to climate change this shift is necessary. The circular economy emphasizes reduction, separation at cost, recycling, and decomposing in order to reduce waste. It is a three system cycle that boils down to reducing waste, recycling products, and regenerating natural systems. Kenya aims to move down to 5% waste for final disposal.
To put things into perspective, Mr. Akshay Shah explained the core differences between the linear economy and the circular economy. Being in the manufacturing industry, he has found that the circular economy is beneficial and more profitable. He is the Group Executive Director of Silafrica, a manufacturing company. He explains that the linear economy comprises of taking resources, making packaging, and then disposing of them. By doing so the plastic is exposed directly to the environment and takes years to decompose, which is harmful to the environment.
Perhaps the main reason why people shy away from using energy-efficient resources is that they assume that it is expensive. But as Mr. Akshay puts it, moving to solar is cheaper now more than ever before. You save on money and draw higher electricity quality which leads to more outputs and fewer rejections. In other words, cheap equipment generally translates to less output and more usage of electricity. It saves on costs in the long run. If you don’t recycle you cannot be competitive. Recycling is not only good for the environment but for the business as well.
The question is, what can consumers do? Well, most of us have one garbage bin for both organic and inorganic waste. If you think about all the individuals doing this, it sums up to a lot. That is where awareness creation comes in, to make consumers knowledgeable on how to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Consumers should consider waste segregation which makes it easier for waste management.
The shift to the circular economy is essential because as Dr. Macharia said, organic waste improves the water retention of the soils, such that crops are less affected by droughts. According to him, the ‘magic bullet’ to the transition towards the circular economy is at the household and institutional level.
However, this isn’t as simple as it sounds. In fact, at the event, it was argued that consumers must first be educated. A product could be made of aluminium but has an inner plastic lining. As much as waste can be separated at the household level, it is impossible to separate fused materials. This calls for the need to redesign products to promote the circular economy at the manufacturer level.
Interesting to note, while most plastic is drawn from fossil fuels, not all plastic has to come from oil. Mr. Akshay spoke about the need for Kenya to convert some of its arable lands to the production of plant-based polymers. This will ensure the sustainability of the environment by conserving non-renewable energy sources such as fossil fuel, which primarily constitutes most plastics out there.
There is a need for a journey of transformation in the country. What we must realize is that waste is equal to wealth. A good analogy is in Denmark, where they manage their waste so well that they export it and make money out of it. Perhaps with proper waste management policies, there will be the creation of jobs, an increase in sales and profits, and in the long run, a turnover in issues to do with climate change.
My name is Laura Ayienga, a 25-year-old writer & marketer, experiencing the highs (not claiming the lows) of life. I discovered my passion for writing on this very blog back in 2019 and since then, I’ve been using it to express myself as candidly and authentically as possible.