Kenya has been throwing laws at the plastic menace problem and seems at least it plans to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Over the last four years, Kenya has introduced a law banning plastic carrier bags as well as a ban on all single-use plastics, including bottles, in national parks and protected areas.
A new law proposed by Nairobi County for a complete ban on the manufacture, import, export, use or offer for sale plastic carrier bags and plastic material will cause havoc in the market, decimating jobs, pushing up costs and nay impossible to implement.
Plastic has become so ubiquitous in use that one does not realize that plastic use permeates all factors in life from medicine packaging, pens and debit cards to the more obvious water and beverage bottles.
Manufacturers warn that complete bans would lead to the closure of businesses, disruption of supplies and loss of revenue for the government.
The government knows that sometimes policy works against the greater good as was the case of the rate capping law that almost crippled the banking sector.
What the industry has learned is that the legal push is a voice of concern and requires decisive and far-reaching reforms from the industry.
Pressure to ban plastics in protected areas and national parks elicited such a response when Coca-Cola, Unilever, and the Kenya Association of Manufacturers announced the formation of PETCO, a company that described itself as an effort of the Kenyan plastics industry to “self-regulate” the recycling of PET plastics.
- Inside Coca-Cola’s plastic promises
- Coca-Cola was part of the plastic problem, now it is part of the solution
The move has been creating a viable collection model b subsidizing recyclers to fish in more plastics.
Plastic Collectors earn Kes19 for every kilogramme of PET they sell to recyclers and PETCO chips in a top-up of Kes5, bringing the payday to Kes24 per kilogramme.
It is modelled to a similar model used in South Africa that has seen PETCO grow purchases of bottles for recycling from 9,800 tonnes in 2005, to 93,235 tonnes in 2017 translating to about 65 per cent recycling rate.
PETCO which has its offices at the Nairobi headquarters of Coca-Cola, one of more than a dozen member companies which says the results have been encouraging.
Coca-Cola says its PET recycling rates in Kenya increased from 5 per cent in 2018 to approximately 40 per cent in the first two years of implementation forming a basis to increase the project into the region.
“Despite the challenges of COVID-19, in 2020 we launched similar programs in Ethiopia and Tanzania. Looking ahead, we are exploring the potential of diversifying the PETCO model beyond PET to include closures, labels, aluminium cans, shrink wrap, cardboard and more,” Coca Cola says.
The soft drink maker also made Kenya one of the first markets in Africa that will pioneer the shift of Sprite bottles into clear packaging for the first time in nearly 60 years.
All of Sprite’s bottles are currently 100 per cent recyclable but it’s more difficult to recycle a green bottle into a clear bottle through mechanical recycling.
In mechanical recycling plastic bottles are sorted, cleaned and ground up into small flakes that can be melted into new material.
If the plastic is dyed, it can’t easily be turned back into clear plastic, so it’s less valuable for the overall market.
“Sprite is launching a 13.2-oz. clear bottle and will transition its entire portfolio to clear packaging by the end of 2022,” Coca Cola said.
Moving from green to clear packaging increases the efficiency of recycling systems and enables more of these bottles to be remade into new bottles.
Coca Cola was also part of the four major consumer companies including Diageo, Unilever and Nestlé that launched the Africa Plastics Recycling Alliance at the CEO Africa Forum in Kigali.
This Alliance aims to turn the current challenge of plastic waste in Sub Saharan Africa into an opportunity to create jobs and commercial activity by improving the collection and recycling of plastics.
The current interventions show that the industry has felt the need to do more to fight the threat of plastics they produce.
More needs to be done however to make this shift sustainable including a plan to mainstream PETCO and invest more resources into the recycling infrastructure.
Nairobi County for instance may better benefit from a countywide infrastructure of drop off points, garbage separation at sources and an elaborate public awareness campaign plus a reward scheme to incentivize recycling.