Families and business owners risk a Sh20,000 fine or six months in jail for failure to separate degradable and non-degradable garbage in legal changes aimed at curbing environmental pollution.
The Sustainable Waste Management Bill, 2021 makes it compulsory to separate garbage into organic, dry and special waste ahead of collection from homes and businesses by licensed garbage firms.
The National Assembly committee on Environment inserted a new clause that compels households to store garbage in three bins of green, yellow and blue.
“All citizens and residents in Kenya shall segregate waste at source in accordance with the subsection and whoever commits an offence and shall on conviction be liable to a fine not exceeding twenty thousand shillings or imprisonment not exceeding six months or both,” says the new clause in the Bill approved by the parliamentary committee.
Green bins will be used for collecting organic waste while blue and yellow bins will be used for dry and special waste respectively.
Under the Bill, county governments will be expected to license and regulate private garbage collectors amid a struggle by the devolved units to collect refuse from homes and businesses.
If adopted, Kenya will join nations in the West that levy fines for putting waste in the wrong bins or putting bins out on the wrong day. It will also trigger increased privatisation of waste collection countrywide.
Separating waste into compostable, recyclable, and landfills will ease recycling.
Dysfunctional solid management systems in many counties have no designated recycling points, leaving homeless people to sift through mountains of pungent garbage at landfills.
Kenya imposed one of the world’s toughest bans on plastic bags in 2017. Now, disappointed that authorities have not even set up plastic collection bins, officials are considering a plastic bottle ban as well.
Licensing more private rubbish collectors will come as bad news to companies contracted by estate managers and individual households to collect garbage at an average price of Sh300 per month per household.
Garbage collection business has been thriving as many entrepreneurs sought to fill the gap left by the county governments, which lack the capacity to manage waste in the populous urban areas.
Heaps of garbage are a common eyesore in most of Kenya’s urban centres as the devolved units struggle to dispose off waste.
Analysts say the inability by most families to pay up for refuse collection has been a major problem encountered by local authorities in East Africa and could be a hindrance to the successful privatisation of the garbage business.
“While the high-income areas are willing to pay for improved services, the low-income areas receive the least attention, as most households do not have the financial means to meet even the minimum tariffs charged by local authorities. There is also a lack of understanding and prioritisation amongst people of refuse collection,” said analysts from Frost and Sullivan in an earlier brief.
Non-degradable plastics had become a menace with town streets across the country and choked garbage disposal sites.
The absence of a law compelling households and businesses to play an increased role in curbing environmental pollution has forced Kenya to rely on corporates and plastic recycling firms to reduce the influx of non-biodegradable waste.
Recycling firms such as Mr Green Africa currently rely on goodwill or offer incentives to boost the collection of plastics mainly in the cities.
Fast-moving consumer goods manufacturer Unilever leads the list of firms that package in containers made from recycled plastics to reduce environmental damage.
The firm last year introduced recycled packs for one-kilogramme and 500-gramme Sunlight scouring powder that is sold across East Africa.
Unilever Africa president Bruno Witvoet says this is part of the company’s plans to ensure that all its plastic packs are made from reused or recycled plastic by 2025.
Plastic bags and plastic containers can take up to thousands of years to decompose, causing threats to wildlife, people and the environment.
Business lobby Kenya Private Sector Alliance (Kepsa) had petitioned the committee for laws that will bring homes and businesses to the centre of the fight on non-biodegradable waste.
The lobby said that the compulsory segregation of waste at source will increase responsibility on consumers and enhance the circular economy that reduces release of harmful waste to the environment