Combating Plastic Pollution One Plastic Waste at a Time.

Plastic pollution
Pollution is a major contributor to climate change and a circular economy is the best remedy to plastic pollution

By Jesse Chenge

Evan Mutungi is a man on a mission — to make a difference in his community in Webuye, Bungoma County, one plastic waste at a time. He makes a living through recycling, turning discarded plastic into construction materials such as vents and roofing rubber.

He spent a good part of his life in Sudan and returned home in 2017. He said his shock at finding plastics everywhere, including in rivers, ignited a fire in him to make a change. That is how the idea to make vents out of plastic was born. 

Together with his team, they collect plastic waste from local businesses and waste centres, clean and separate the materials before proceeding to make entirely new products. The recycled plastic is melted down to create the ventilators and roofing rubbers, which have already been tested and approved by medical professionals.

Evan Mutugi
Evan Mutugi and his colleague sorting through plastics for recycling

“I was shocked by the amount of plastic waste I saw here, but it gave me the idea to create something useful out of it. I hope my journey shows others that small changes can make a big difference in the world,” he said.

His work highlights the importance of finding solutions to combat plastic pollution.

Today, more than 400 million tonnes of plastic waste are produced globally every year, half of which is designed to be used only once (single-use).

This plastic waste can take hundreds of years to decompose and often ends up in the oceans and waterways, endangering marine ecosystems and ultimately harming human health.

Dr John Makokha, an environmental physics lecturer at Kibabii University in Bungoma,  reiterates that the environment is the source of survival for humankind and all sorts of life must therefore be protected at all costs. Wanjala also acknowledges that plastics are a nuisance to the environment and their disposal needs to be controlled.

“Plastics do not decompose and this makes their harm far-reaching. Regulatory authorities must up their game on compliance in order to permanently get rid of the plastic bags that are already illegal in Kenya yet seem to have found their way back into the market,” he said.

“Pollution is a major contributor to climate change and a circular economy is the best remedy to plastic pollution. Water and air have also been hit hard by plastic pollution and we therefore need a multisectoral approach to tame pollution,” he said.

The Beat Plastic Pollution campaign is therefore a call to action for everyone to do their part to reduce plastic waste in their everyday lives. With small changes like using reusable grocery bags, water bottles, and straws, a cleaner and greener future can be realized.

plastic pollution
Edith Khayendi, a mother of four, turning trash into treasure at a Webuye dumpsite

Incentives have also been fronted as a way to encourage recycling as was done in the 2019/20 budget, which provided incentives to businesses for plastic recycling. The incentives included an exemption from the 16% VAT for all services offered, including plastic recycling plants as well as the cost of machinery and equipment needed to set up recycling plants. The government also reduced corporate tax from 30% to 15% for the first five years for any investor operating a plastic recycling plant.

Of all the plastic produced in the world, only less than 10 per cent is recycled. An estimated 19-23 million tonnes end up in lakes, rivers and seas annually.

Microplastics – which are tiny plastic particles of up to 5mm in diameter – find their way into food, water and air. Discarded or burnt single-use plastic harms human health and biodiversity and pollutes every ecosystem, from mountain tops to the ocean floor.

With available science and solutions to tackle the problem, governments, companies and other stakeholders have been urged to scale up and speed actions to solve this crisis. This underscores the importance of this World Environment Day in mobilising transformative action.

At the 5th session of the United Nations Environment Assembly held last year, a decision was taken to develop a legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment, with the ambition to complete the negotiations by the end of 2024. This decision was seen as the second biggest green deal ever made after the Paris Agreement on climate change that was adopted at the 21st session of UN Climate talks (COP 21) that was held in Paris, France in 2015. 

This article was first published by The Nation Media Group.

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