There are a few decisions I have made in my life. One of them is to avoid using plastic. Long before the 2017 ban on single-use plastics, I had stopped using them. My motto was simple: to do the best I can to reduce my waste count. I must confess that it’s been a challenging journey. Just the other day, I stopped by the supermarket to buy a biro pen. Do you know how much packaging there was for that one biro pen? I checked around to see if I could find one with less packaging but all of them were packaged the same way. It was then that I realized that the Market wasn’t interested in helping me reduce my ecological footprint.
Plastic pollution has reached critical levels. Annually, Nairobi generates over half a million tons of plastic waste. Out of this, only 15% is recycled and only 3% is turned into value-added products. The rest is lying somewhere in the environment. Yet, the reality on the ground shows that it’s very hard to avoid plastic. Plastic is part of our everyday infrastructure. It’s simply everywhere since it is cheap to produce and cheap for consumers to buy. Small wonder therefore that our shopping spaces – from supermarkets, shops and neighbourhood kiosks – are brimming with plastic.
Plastic is used to wrap almost everything. By simply buying goods from the many shopping venues, one is guaranteed to generate a lot of waste from packaging only. Consumers wary of their environmental impact have very few options to choose from. And if there are some, they’re expensive. This leaves them with no option but to go on a plastic binge. The crisis rises several notches higher in low income households. Companies have packaged most of their products in satchets since the people there buy products daily, and in minute quantities. While this is a plus for the poor as it enables them access high quality products affordably, satchets create a waste catastrophe.
Manufacturers and their friends always talk about recycling. Probably because it to make them feel less guilty. But the statistics show that recycling just isn’t working. Here’s why. There’s no economic incentive for some plastics, like satchets, to be recycled. Recycling is also complicated by the mix of plastics in products. Let’s also not forget that it’s cheaper to make new plastic. Citizens have been tasked with the responsibility of reducing their ecological footprints. You’ve been bombarded with multiple calls to actions yet the true culprits abscond responsibility for their role in creating this plastic mess. If we’re serious about tackling plastic pollution, we’ve got to take the fight to them. One of those peoples are the shopping venues.
Shopping venues can play a key role in reducing waste from plastic packaging. They’re uniquely placed right between the manufacturers and suppliers and consumers. They literally control the supply chain. Every day, millions of people enter through their doors. If they were to take a stand for the environment, Kenyans would see a tangible shift in the fight against plastic. All they have to do is refuse to stock products packaged in plastic. They must be willing to say to their suppliers, “No more plastic packaging. Kindly change this or we’ll pull the plug on your products and find a supplier willing to cooperate.” This one action will make their corporate social responsibility count for something, causing a rippling effect in the industry, demanding innovation.
Before you say that this cannot be done, Thornton’s Budgens, a store in London has done it. In just ten weeks, they had created plastic-free zones with over 1700 plastic free products. After the switch, sales surprisingly increased. So, Shopping Venue Executives, plastic free shopping is possible. The consumers of today, like me, have beliefs, and are actively looking to do good for the environment. If you support their values, they’ll support your business.