How to boost a circular economy cycle

A textile sorting warehouse for Uptex, a firm that recycles textile waste.

What you need to know:

  • Most products we rely on daily contribute to this ever-growing menace.
  • They are made for a linear economic system in which resources are extracted to make products that eventually end up as waste.

All that waste choking our streets, overflowing landfills and tainting our beaches was once something you might have held in your hand, something you bought, used and then discarded.

Sadly, most products we rely on daily contribute to this ever-growing menace. They are made for a linear economic system in which resources are extracted to make products that eventually end up as waste.

As plastic bags litter our streets, overflowing landfills threaten our health, and e-waste dumps spew toxins into our environment, consumers are left to take disposal responsibility.

Lack of obligation allows producers to adopt a take-make-dispose mentality, leaving overburdened consumers with limited options, to consequently pollute their environment.

Were that to change, producers would have to make stuff with the end journey in mind, making them more reusable to boost a circular economy cycle.

We can create obligations by implementing workable Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policies.

That way, producers, not just consumers, are accountable for the entire journey of their products, from cradle to grave. They design for recyclability and financing collection systems and ensure responsible end-of-life management.

80 per cent of Kenya’s waste, mostly plastic, ends up in the environment, posing a critical threat to our ecosystems and communities.

The World Bank estimates that inadequate waste management in Sub-Saharan Africa costs the region around $4.6 billion annually, highlighting the urgent need for solutions.

Insufficient producer responsibility therefore threatens public health while improper waste management fosters breeding grounds for disease-carrying vectors and costs millions if shillings in healthcare.

Studies link waste mismanagement to respiratory illnesses, diarrhoeal diseases and even cancer.

Healthy EPR unlocks valuable resources embedded within discarded items through responsible waste management and resource recovery.

A report by the United Nations Environment Programme estimates that transitioning to a circular economy globally could generate $4.5 trillion in economic benefits annually by 2030.

Extracting virgin resources and manufacturing new products require immense energy and emit greenhouse gases. Working EPR policies will incentivise sustainable design, recycling and reuse, contributing to climate change mitigation efforts.

The circular economy model aims to eliminate waste and pollution by maximising the lifespan of existing resources through reuse, repair and recycling.

It also prioritises resource efficiency and product design for endless life cycles. This eventually translates to less use, smarter designs and accountable manufacturers’ responsibility.

Kenya’s EPR policy, launched in 2021, swiftly established a robust regulatory framework encompassing plastic packaging, e-waste, lubricating oils and vehicle batteries.

The current EPR regulations require producers to register with the National Environment Management Authority, raise awareness on the management of post-consumer products and carry out product life cycle assessments for enhancing environmental sustainability among other obligations.

The Kenya Extended Producer Responsibility Organization (KEPRO) spearheads plastic packaging EPR, fostering collaboration between producers and stakeholders.

Recent developments include the allocation of over Sh6 billion in the 2023 National Budget to support waste management.

Ensuring universal compliance with producer obligations remains a hurdle, necessitating robust enforcement mechanisms and transparent reporting systems.

Infrastructure deficiencies in waste collection, sorting and recycling, especially in rural areas, demand substantial investment for improvement.

Bridging the gap in consumer awareness of EPR principles and responsible waste disposal practices requires sustained and targeted awareness campaigns.

Financial sustainability hinges on funding mechanisms, including producer fees, government support and private sector involvement, which can pose a delay in implementation.

KEPRO's expansion plans and multi-stakeholder collaboration including collaboration with informal waste collectors are key to effective implementation.