The impact of plastic pollution is felt across the world, with 8 million tonnes of plastic finding its way into oceans every year.
“Modern lifestyles, where plastics are used by many as ‘single-use’, combined with global population growth has meant the production and use of plastics has just exploded,” World Wildlife Fund states on its website. “And with the explosion, came the pollution.”
Even more troubling is that fact only 9% of all plastic waste ever produced has been recycled, while 79% ends up in landfills, dumps, or the natural environment.
In Kenya, rapid urbanisation has exasperated the problem.
“At present, there is a large amount of plastic waste, particularly plastic bags and plastic bottles, which are seen littered all over in Kenya,” researcher David Ombisi Ambuchi writes in his paper, "Plastic waste management in Kenya: An evaluation of policies and regulations on plastic bags and plastic bottles waste in Nairobi."
This plastic waste primarily end up in landfills, which leave 90% of land in a “non-sanitary” condition, according to the World Economic Forum.
Landfills are also a health hazard. Speaking to the United Nations Environment Programme about the impact of Dandora landfill in Nairobi’s Korogocho neighbourhood, Father Maurizio Binaghi, who runs a school in the area, said: “The people who live near the dump have a saying: ‘I don’t know when I will die, but I do know what I will die from’.”
The landfill has caused air pollution and polluted water with mercury. Meanwhile, living near landfills also increases the likelihood of health problems like low birth weight, birth defects, and certain types of cancers.
Time to act
The Coca-Cola company launched the World Without Waste campaign in January 2018 as one of the ways in which the company — a leader in the beverage industry — can start a global conversation about the role that corporates have in helping to achieve the targets set by the UN Global Goals.
The World Without Waste is the company’s pledge to help collect and recycle a bottle or a can for every one sold by 2030.
“The company is investing its marketing dollars and skills behind this 100% collection goal to help people understand what, how, and where to recycle,” said James Quincey, president and CEO of the Coca-Cola Company.
Quincey added that the World Without Waste campaign will work with local communities, consumers, and industry partners to address issues that contribute to plastic and other types of waste.
Sustainability should be business as usual
Doris Kendi from Coca-Cola Beverages Africa says plastic pollution in Kenya is one of the company’s main concerns, and that it considers tackling plastic pollution is a critical part of the business.
“It is simply the right thing to do, and as a responsible business we seek to do business the right way by addressing issues that affect us and the communities where we operate,” Kendi said.
She also said Coca-Cola and the larger beverages industry have a responsibility to educate consumers, promote recycling, and put sustainability at the core of business decisions.
“We acknowledge that we have a packaging problem and plastic pollution is a real threat to our environment, and hence we seek to hold hands with like-minded entities to help solve tackle this challenge the problem which we have all created,” Kendi added.
Partnerships for environmental health
Total plastic produced in Kenya stands at about 400,000 tonnes according to Joyce Wanjiru of PETCO Kenya. PETCO is a polyethylene terephthalate (PET) recycling company.
“Littering is the most rampant environment issue Kenya faces at the moment, coupled with lack of segregation at source programmes and indiscriminate dumping along riparian ecosystems such as river banks,” Wanjiru said.
PETCO’s work includes creating collective action for industry to be able to be responsible for the post-consumer PET bottles, and building partnerships with strategic partners such as the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, Kenya Residents Association, Retail Traders Association of Kenya, and civil society to promote sustainable waste management practices.
The organisation also works closely with the government through the Ministry of Environment and Forestry and the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) to create collection points around the country.
As a result of PETCO’s work and partnerships, the tide created by plastic pollution is starting to change.
“We've achieved a recycling rate of 30% in 2019, up from 9% in 2018,” Wanjiru explained. “As of October 2019, we've recycled more than 5,000 tonnes of PET bottles, and our target for 2019 is 7,000 tonnes, which we will achieve.”
PETCO has also transferred almost R5 million ($350,000) to collectors through its subsidy programme in 2019, and is set to increase this figure by 29% in the 2020 financial year.