What you need to know:
- Think about dairy products, bottled water, soft drinks and some pharmaceutical products.
- There are several ways in which individuals and businesses can play a role.
The ban on manufacture, import, use and handling of plastic carrier bags in Kenya took effect late last year in one of the highlights of the year in the conservation world that has registered a high degree of success.
But a colleague shared with me images of a storm drain in Ongata Rongai, 20km southwest of Nairobi, which was blocked by plastic bottles.
It had just rained. In there were water, soda, juice and milk bottles, obviously thrown about by the public and neighbouring shops, eateries and bars.
Welcome to another epic battle. And it will not be easy.
First, there is a behavioural problem among consumers. I remember seeing a motorist throw out of the window, on a busy street, a water bottle he had been drinking from.
Couldn’t he keep it till he got to a dustbin and dispose of it there? Was it taking too much space? Or was it stinking?
However, this is a big opportunity for the plastic bottle manufacturers, users and recyclers to partner on something noble. Such a conversation is ongoing between the bottle makers and major users and recyclers, under the stewardship of Sustainable Inclusive Business (KenyaSIB) and the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (Kepsa) and the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM).
County governments face a lot of challenges in managing waste collection and disposal — including lack of technical knowhow, limited financial resources, failure to prioritise waste management, cut-throat competition for control of the lucrative garbage business and inefficiencies and red tape.
The plastic bottles are made by someone who profits from them. From the manufacturer, we have companies that use them to package products.
The consumer often has no idea what to do with the empty bottle other than throw it into the dustbin or, at worst, bush.
The partnership could also create awareness and raise consciousness, particularly among the end consumers, to ensure no plastic bottle mysteriously jumps out of cars, homes or business premises into the environment.
Unfortunately, it may not be practical or reasonable to ban plastic bottles the way we did with plastic carrier bags. Doing so could raise the cost of essential commodities, to the disadvantage of the consumer. Think about dairy products, bottled water, soft drinks and some pharmaceutical products.
Besides the cost, doing away with plastic bottles could have unintended health consequences. How would water be packaged, for instance? Would sellers resort to packaging that harms the health of the population?
Here is how we can deal with the plastic bottle menace.
Let manufacturers and users commit money to a fund to be managed by SIB/Kepsa and KAM. These bodies will then, in partnership with the county governments and recycling firms, carry out educational programmes and provide well-branded bins within reasonable distances where the public can dispose of used plastic bottles for collection by recyclers and county authorities.
It is notable that manufacturers and users already pay taxes and other levies. All they want is for the government to honour its part of the bargain. The government may consider tax rebates.
There are several ways in which individuals and businesses can play a role.
For instance, instead of serving water in bottles at meetings, a dispenser can be provided and guests encouraged to use glasses. It would also cut costs.
Water companies can also install dispensers strategically and customers to fill their reusable glasses or aluminium bottles with water at a fee.
Short of such drastic measures, plastic bottles will continue to choke life out of us.
Ms Boomsma is coordinator, Sustainable Inclusive Business Kenya (KenyaSIB). [email protected]