Greening Environment

Kenya: For Sustainable Greening Environment, Circular Economy Model Is Here

Linear Economy Seasons Exit, Comes Time For Circular Model

By Henry Owino


Kenya Government is seriously committed to mitigating climate change by all means to the point of declaring a national public holiday to plant trees. November 13, 2023 will go in Kenya history books and United Nations Environmental Archives for dedicating a day specifically for reforestation program.

Another area of climate change mitigation Kenya government is so much devoted at is waste management. This is evidenced by banning single use plastic bags in the country back in 2017, a move that was lauded by international environmentalists as a major groundbreaking.

The ban applies to the use, manufacture and importation of the banned plastics within Kenya. Then Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Natural Resource Prof Judi Wakhungu said wanton littering sadly remains a part of Kenya’s culture irrespective of socio-economic status.

This seemed to be true as beyond the policy, no one wanted to take responsibility for their litter. This was beyond national and county governments intervention but more on the individual or household level.

It did not take long before a presidential directive on 5 June, 2019 during World Environment Day, another ban was imposed on the use of plastic bottles on National Parks beaches, will come into effect on 5 June 2020 in National Parks, forests, beaches, conservation areas among other protected areas.

The policy meant that tourists and visitors were no longer allowed to carry plastic water bottles, cups, disposable plates, cutlery, or straws into protected areas. The move was not welcomed by several citizens including foreigners as it required each and everybody to carry with them reusable water bottles, cutlery or crockery.


On several occasions in media interviews with Prof Wakhungu then CS for Environment responded to her critics that it was her responsibilities to address the critical issue of pollution. Plastic pollution had become a national disaster, piling up everywhere in neighbourhoods and clogging drainage systems.

During circular economic training for East Africa journalist held in Nairobi, Kenya Prof Wakhungu said she had to enforce the policy because the country toyed with the idea of tackling the issue for many years. There were several meetings with endless discussions between manufacturers and the ministries for environment and industrialization.

“None of the organizations or collaborating ministries wanted to take lead despite numerous meetings with back-and-forth discussions. No action was being taken, despite the situation turning dire hence my action as then head of the line Ministry acted,” Prof Wakhungu affirmed.

Plastic pollution remains one of the most serious threats to the planet’s health. Single-use plastics are polluting majority of ecosystems from rivers, lakes, oceans, soil, rainforests to the world’s deepest ocean trench. Worse still is when consumed by fish, birds and livestock, plastic waste ends up in human food chain.

If for this reason that Kenya yet again introduced a policy on Waste Management Act, 2022. This after Environmental Management and Co-ordination Act No. 8 of 1999 (EMCA), seems to be failing the country’s target. The goal has been to eradicate plastic waste by the year 2030 according to the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

United Nations (UN) Environmental Programme cautioned Members States that it estimates there will be more plastics than fish in the ocean, unless governments and the private sector promote more resource-efficient design, production, use and sound management of plastics throughout their life cycle.

Policy implementation

According Dr Ayub Macharia, Director, National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), Kenya is taking a bold step in the right direction as the new law on the Sustainable Waste Management Act, 2022, does not only targets end users but producers or manufactures as well.

Dr Macharia, said NEMA is under Ministry of Environment and Forestry which is national government but the function of waste management is devolved to the county governments according Kenya Constitution, 2010. The 47 County Governments are in charge of ensuring that the system is running, while National Government role is to coordinate, guarantee the standards are in place and counties are functioning.

“The Sustainable Waste Management Act, 2022, requires NEMA to generate waste that is not contaminated from homes, estates, offices, markets, learning institutions among others. The waste should be separated into wet solids and dry solids at least in two different litterbins to picked up by licensed collectors,” Dr Macharia explained.

NEMA Director said the previous Act 1999 had a component of waste management but with loopholes. In 2006, a regulation on waste management was established to strengthen that policy which has been in force up to 2021.

Dr Macharia who is also in charge of Environmental Education and Awareness stated that previous policy focused on linear economy model where waste was being collected in litterbins and transported to dumpsite for disposal. For instance, Nairobi County, dumpsite has been at Dandora dumping site and same to Kisumu County at Kachok dumping site, Nakuru County at Gioto and while Mombasa at Mwakirunge garbage dump just to mention but a few which were gazetted landfills or dumpsites.

“NEMA was not operating illegally as claimed by critics those dumping sites though, many other illegal dumping sites cropped up in all these cities making it very difficult to manage waste pollution and emission in such areas,” Dr Macharia noted.

NEMA Director clarified that several illegal dumping sites was one of the reasons why the government sorted public opinion between 2017 to 2021 and developed Sustainable Waste Management Act, 2022, through Parliament and approved by Presidential Assent. So, the current law on sustainable waste management is not implausible idea.

Currently the new law now requires waste collectors or pickers also to do further separations by sorting waste for valuables recovery before finally delivering the waste to recyclers for resource regeneration. Recyclers are responsible for collectors working conditions and protective gears.

It is estimated that Kenya generates between 3,000 to 4,000 tons of waste per day, majority of which originates from urban areas. According to World Bank, the country’s capital, Nairobi generates between 2,000 to 2,500 tons of waste day.

According Dr Macharia, out of total waste generated in Nairobi, 60 percent is organic and 30 percent are recyclables or recoverable. This means that 90 percent of waste in the capital city is valuable while remaining 10 percent minimal can be used to generate energy.

“Remember that the new law requires everybody to segregate their waste at its source into two separate litterbins and give it out to licensed waste service providers. Licensed collectors are the only people responsible for delivering waste at the materials recovery facility not at dumpsite anymore,” Dr Macharia emphasized.

The 47 counties in Kenya are expected to be exiting dumpsites which are to be converted into landfills but due to lack proper site, NEMA is responsible for recovering up to 90% of the waste in the counties while the minimal 5% or so volume is left to the landfills for counties management.

Economic benefits

There are economic benefits and values of the waste collected by NEMA; for example, turning organic waste into organic fertilizers which are sold to farmers while plastics to recyclers. The initiative to date has created jobs opportunities for thousands of youth and women and source of livelihood for uncountable people countrywide.

“For example, if Nairobi County generates 3000 tons of waste daily, of which 1800 tons is organic waste thus 60 percent excluding plastics. Out of these, a half a tone of the waste can support five jobs therefore the total waste in Nairobi County only secure more 18,000 jobs,” Dr Macharia stated.

Section 13 of the Waste Management Act, 2022, introduces Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). The concept says the producer whether a manufacturer, importer or dealer of items in Kenya should take care of their products even at post-consumer levels.

“Taking care means the product after unpackaging is collected, segregated and delivered to the recyclers or properly disposed. This circular economy model has opened up the country for many opportunities especially to companies as long as they demonstrate to manage that product and packaging,” NEMA Director clarified.

Consequently, EPR brings in responsibility to Kenyan producers, companies unlike in the past where they could import anything from anywhere and expecting counties to have all technologies to manage any product imported from anywhere in the world.

Accordingly, responsibility is now shifting away from County Governments to the entrepreneurs, producers, companies because they know better products contents, the recyclers. In short, import products but ensure it have its local recyclers.

NEMA Policy

All producers, manufacturers or importers must register their products with NEMA. For instance, Kenyan importing sugar from Brazil then repackage it locally is a producer because of packaging introduction.

Upon registration, the producers are required to network form association with their producer responsible organizations (PROs) who are mandated to oversee waste collection all the way to cycling plant. Upon forming association, they share more information about the products depending on its licensed category.

Purpose of association is for two companies to agree on; how the byproducts are collected, materials transported, assign recyclers and calculate the entire cost of managing the producer waste. “For example, if the entire cost is Ksh 1000 for the whole procedure of waste management, the total amount is divided individuals involves. That is how extended producer responsibility (EPR) works,” NEMA Director simplifies.

There are five categories of licensing products: First category is Packaging (hazardous or non-hazardous) examples include; paints, pharmaceuticals, acids, cosmetics among others. Non-hazardous are such as; sugar, tea, coffee among others.

The third category is electronic waste; the fourth category is end-of-use vehicles including aeroplanes, motorbikes, ships and such like so that they are not dump anywhere on the roads and water bodies. The fifth and last category is non-packaging which include; shoes(leather), old tires, diapers and the counting continuous to 32 items listed initially subjected to EPR regulation.

Fortunately, Section 13 of NEMA laws subjects all producers to EPR regardless of the category the items fall under. The initiative is in schedule one of the regulations and can be expanded to cover others but at least for now, the most problematic waste are the 32 items listed falling under the five categories.

“Let me reiterate here that ones a producer registers his products with NEMA, they must identify their PROs, come up with plan on how to manage the resources, cost the plan and divide the cost among yourselves,” Macharia explained.

Adding; incentives are entrenched in the law of Sustainable Waste Management and grounded on the concept of waste reduction. If you reduce waste, you pay less, and that is where incentives are hidden in reduction.

“For instance, if you import materials that are easy to recycle then you pay less. But if you import products that is hard to correct in the environment, contain hazardous contents or additives or with challenges of life cycle then producer is charged more by recycler.

For products that are not recyclable, it means the producer must incinerate the items and the cost is extremely very high. Therefore, the cost here is the deterrent in terms of incentives.

Waste management opportunities

According to NEMA laws of location proximity, waste should be processed as near as possible from its point of generation. As a result, local residents have the opportunity to start small scale Waste Management facilities (SMEs). This is possible at the estate level where materials recovery facility is set up for organized communities to do composting using black soldier fly that is possible indoors and sell to farmers, collect and sort plastics for sale to recyclers among others.

There is ready market as waste no longer go to dumpsites but to recyclers’ facilities. There is also compensation from EPR for collecting materials of their products which today have value unlike linear economy model. So, there are plenty of business opportunities that has come with circular economy model using simple technologies.

Sustainable Waste Management Act,2022, is contributing to reduction of greenhouse gases emission in a big way. Organic waste generates methane gas that is released to the atmosphere forming about 10% GHS that warms the ozone layer hence extreme heats. However, this can be avoided by turning organic waste into organic fertilizer then protein profitable to farmers and beneficial to environment.

Again, plastic bottles or glass which are to be mined at some point at cost for petroleum the same to glass for it to become glass somebody has to mine gravel, then heating to make the glass. But if the glass is collected, transported, and delivered to recyclers, all other cost of making new ones is cut, emissions resulting from mining, transportation and processing are all reduced.

All these are enhancing circular economy which have several components. So, in circular economy model, materials are held within a loop without losing anything. Organic waste will go through processes without losing anything to regenerate resource to the next generation of plants to generate the same food.

Circular economy is a complete loop without causing emissions to the environment and it has various options; reduce, reuse, recycle within a loop.

Stakeholders’ compliance

The law targets many players to do the public awareness. These include; National and County Governments, NEMA, Civil Society Organizations including PROs and producers labeling their products to be protected from open dumping. Service providers are crucial at the household level by educating families to segregate waste at the source hence awareness responsibility everybody across the board.

“To promote and encourage this initiative we have sponsored a TV programme known as ‘Taka Thursday’ running every week. It creates awareness among the public and stakeholders on their roles and responsibility on waste management,” MENA Director said.

Accumulated waste deposits are an indication of societal lifestyles. The waste management affects every person and institution in society. The purpose of this National Solid Waste Management policy is to guide sustainable solid waste management in Kenya to ensure a healthy, safe and secure environment for all. The Strategy is a deliberate and visionary commitment for the country in the management of solid waste.

The strategy seeks to establish a common platform for action between stakeholders to systematically improve waste management in Kenya. The measures set out in the strategy cannot be undertaken without a collective approach to waste challenges, and the involvement of a broad range of stakeholders in their implementation.

Remember, Kenya government targets to eradicate plastic waste by 2030 following the SDGs goals especially 11 and 12 sustainable cities and communities and responsible consumption and production respectively.