Kenya is a leader in the fight against plastic pollution and is one of the first countries in East Africa to restrict single-use plastics and sign up to the Clean Seas initiative to eliminate plastic waste from waterways.
Juliette Biao, the United Nations Environment Program’s (UNEP) regional director for Africa, praised the country for banning plastic bottles, cups and cutlery in its national parks last year, a move following a nationwide ban on plastic bags. She also cited the country’s efforts to stem the flow of plastic into its waterways as an important step in reducing marine litter.
“Kenya has invested heavily in both politics and law enforcement to win the battle against plastic pollution. The result of this investment strengthens Kenya’s environmental stewardship in Africa and the world today, ”said Biao.
Your comments came during the virtual convocation of the fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly, the world’s top environmental decision-making body. Every two years, the Assembly brings together the 193 United Nations member states, policy makers, civil society, academics and the private sector to take action on pressing environmental issues. The virtual session in February 2021 will be followed by a face-to-face meeting in Nairobi in 2022.
Like many countries, Kenya has long struggled with plastic waste, which lies on the coast of the Indian Ocean and is often abundant in its lakes. In Mombasa, the second largest city in the country with around 2 million inhabitants, 3.7 kilos of plastic per capita end up in water every year.
Turn the tide
In close collaboration with communities and in partnership with the private sector and UNEP, Kenya’s national and decentralized governments are establishing a county-level plastic waste disposal program that could be scaled and replicated across the East African community and beyond.
Kenya hit the headlines in 2017 when it banned single-use plastic bags. This was preceded by the country’s decision to join the Clean Seas initiative, making it one of the first African nations to commit to limiting plastic in their waterways.
From June 2020, visitors to Kenyan national parks, beaches, forests and nature reserves will no longer be able to transport plastic water bottles, cups, disposable plates, cutlery or straws into protected areas.
It’s not just the fight against plastic that makes Kenya a green pioneer. The country was also an early adopter of the Green University Initiative. For over a decade, universities across the country have focused on greening their sites while enhancing student engagement and learning. University offerings in environmental science, management and politics are available in both public and private institutions.
The green dividend
By expanding efforts to green its economy, Kenya could use sustainability to fuel economic growth, create jobs and lift people out of poverty.
“Since we began our involvement in polyethylene bags and PET bottles, investments in plastics recycling have increased in Kenya and several new companies have been added. We have worked with our partners to raise environmental awareness of plastic pollution and are proud of initiatives like FlipFlopi, which has demonstrated successful plastic recycling, ”said Chris Kiptoo, General Secretary of the Kenyan Ministry of the Environment and Forestry at the UN Environment Assembly.
Two of the country’s largest industries – agriculture and tourism – could also be sources of environmental innovation and job creation.
Sea of economic opportunities
Such an ambition extends out across the country’s coast and back into the water, as the upcoming Flip-Flopi’s second expedition is set to demonstrate. Kenya also has the opportunity to drive growth by creating a sustainable blue economy and using its marine resources to create jobs and fuel economic growth while maintaining the health of the oceans ecosystem.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta spoke in Nairobi in 2018 about Africa’s first conference on sustainable blue economy and pledged to take action that harness the economic potential of the oceans and the coast of Kenya. He called for strong action to reduce waste and plastic pollution that endanger food security, public health and marine life.
According to a 2018 Policy Brief published by the United Nations Development Program, the western Indian Ocean, which covers the Kenyan coast and most of the coasts of East Africa, generates more than $ 22 billion in goods and services annually, including fisheries, maritime transport, and trade , Tourism and waste management. Kenya’s economic share has been estimated at $ 4.4 billion per year.
With the right policies, especially those that invest in sustainable infrastructure and protect ecosystems along their lake area (which extends over almost 230,000 square kilometers); Kenya could add value to its blue economy.
“As we prepare for the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Environment Program, I encourage Kenya, as host of the world’s leading environmental agency, to continue to show the world that environmental responsibility should be demonstrated through actions, not words,” said Biao.