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Three reasons why plastic recycling doesn’t work in Kenya. - Mazingira Safi Initiative
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Recycling is seen as an easy and fairly popular way of mitigating climate change in the world. And Kenya has not been left behind since we use a lot of plastic in our daily lives. Each year, 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 sent to Dandora or is lying somewhere in our sacred environment.

To increase recycling rates, the Ministry of Environment and the Kenya Association of Manufacturers launched the PET Take Back Scheme project. This project works by placing recycling centres in popular malls where citizens can take their plastic trash for recycling. However, on 2nd August 2019, the Environment and Forest Cabinet Secretary, Keriako Tobiko, expressed his disappointment in the project stating that “there’s nothing to show for it.” Read more about it here.

As consumers, we’re always told to use the 3R’s – reuse, reduce and recycle. With every purchase we make, we are met with the recycling icon reminding us to take up recycling as a civic duty for the benefit of our environment. Even with all these calls of action, why are our recycling efforts failing?

1. Lack of community engagement.

Many plastic recycling projects are created and launched without community engagement. Nobody actually sits and thinks about the consumers’ importance and role in making such efforts a success. For example, when this take back scheme was established, very few people knew about it. Personally, I stumbled upon it while reading. If I was doing general reading and not about plastic, I wouldn’t have known about the scheme. Also, the article which I read from was simply meant to inform the audience and not necessarily influence them to act. This top down approaches plus poor communication always lead to failure.

2. Lack of an economic incentive to recycle

Companies are consumers alike have little to no economic and environmental incentive to recycle.  For companies, recycling plastic costs a lot more money than we think. Since the plastic collected is usually dirty, they have to sort it, remove labels, wash it, and dry it before they can begin using it. How much water and energy will go into this? Are we lowering or increasing our carbon footprint while recycling? Add to that the different mix of plastics in one plastic container. Also, the quality of recycled products goes down and therefore its value. For consumers, monetary compensation is too low yet the effort to collect and accumulate such plastic is a lot. Plastic bottles are usually paid out per kg. It takes fifty 500ml bottles to make one kg, which is valued at shs.5 ($50cts) yet we buy it per bottle. There’s also no positive environmental benefit of recycling. Is it really worth it, especially when consumers have not been involved in the process?

3. Producing new plastic is cheaper.

In an economy driven by capitalism, profit is king. Not people, and definitely not planet. Due to all the complications that come with recycling, corporates find it easier to make new plastic. Therefore, it doesn’t matter how attractive the recycling scheme is. If it tanks profits, it’s not worth their investment. Studies have also shown that plastic recycling is expensive in the long run. Consumers are also unwilling to buy recycled products. Given this situation, what’s a capitalist corporate supposed to do?

Plastic waste management has yet to work. We’re still overrun by plastic. If we want plastic recycling to be effective, we should ban plastic production. Simply because it is the right thing to do and will be the most effective.

What do you think? Let us know 😉

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