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Chemolex Communications Director and co-founder Robert Achoge. Chemolex, is a five-year-old startup that is stepping out to address plastic pollution problem in Kenya.

Across the world, plastic waste is an eyesore in big cities, small towns and stings the firms whose brands are boldly emblazoned on the bottles.

Although plastic is tough enough to store products including chemicals for decades without breaking down, its durability makes it nearly indestructible without intervention.

Some analysts say recycling could be the answer to the ballooning plastics problem but the process remains a complex undertaking.

There are at least half a dozen categories of plastics that are made of different molecular composition and for that reason they have to be carefully sorted when recycling.

Of the many categories of plastics, only two are easily recycled, providing a ready market. The rest, unfortunately, end up in landfills.

In Kenya, Chemolex, a five-year-old startup is one of the few companies stepping out to address plastic pollution problem in close collaboration with the Coca-Cola company.

To help free city rivers of plastic menace, the Kariobangi-based firm engages the youth and communities to mop up plastic bottles from Nairobi, Ngong and Mathare rivers.

Read also: Plastic firms under pressure to do more

It has also installed capture devices along Athi River and its tributaries to pick up plastics from the water.

In 2020, Chemolex rolled out Wajibika, a plastic waste clean-up exercise that has seen a number of youth in Kibera, Kariobangi and Tassia areas within Nairobi benefit from the programme.

“Coca-Cola’s clear Sprite bottle will make for easy processing, turnaround in our work while increasing our revenue as it is 100 per cent recyclable,” said Chemolex Communications Director Robert Achoge.

Studies show that it takes about 10 grams of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) to make half-liter of drink bottle container but that plastic can take hundreds of years to completely disintegrate under the elements.

Chemolex trains community-based organizations, as well as women and youth groups to develop valuable products from different types of waste thereby enhancing resource recovery from plastic and other waste that often end up in rivers or landfills.

Chemolex, which was founded by three friends Cliford Okoth, Malcolm Buluku and Robert Achoge while at the university, seeks to offer sustainable waste management programmes for households.

A 2018 survey by the Urban Africa Risk Knowledge shows that up to 80 per cent of plastic waste generated by slum dwellers in Kenya is disposed poorly in rivers and illegal dumpsites.

Nairobi generates about 2500 tonnes of waste daily out of which about half is poorly disposed ending up in urban river systems.

In July soft drinks giant Coca-Cola rebranded Sprite from the iconic green bottle that has been in use since 1960 to align with Coca-Cola’s World Without Waste vision that aims at collecting and recycling the equivalent of every bottle or can it sells by 2030, as well as use 50 per cent recycled content in all their packaging.

In July Coca-Cola rebranded Sprite from the iconic green bottle to clear one, aligning with the firm’s World Without Waste vision.

“This is a plus in our joint efforts to grow our business while contributing towards more sustainable environmental practices,” said Xavi Selga, Managing Director, Coca-Cola Beverages Africa–Kenya.

Clear PET can be recycled into a wide range of products such as pillow and duvet inners, making it more valuable than the green PET, which has limited use.

Kenya is the fourth market in Africa where Coca-Cola is rolling out Sprite clear PET after South Africa, Nigeria and neighbouring Ethiopia, a country of 112 million people.

In Europe, the Netherlands and Norway markets have already announced full transitions to PET for their entire local plastic packaging systems.

Coca-Cola is a member of PETCO Kenya (PET Recycling Company Ltd), an industry-led PET recycling scheme that brings together 16 industry players from different sectors.

PETCO seeks to coordinate initiatives to collect, sort and recycle plastic bottles, with broader focus on sustainable management of PET material after their initial use.

With such a collective effort, the sight of marine animals dodging plastics as they wallow in the turbid waters, chocked storm drains and tributaries could be a thing of the past.

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