EXTENDING MANAGEMENT OF WASTE EROSION INTO THE MARINE ECOSYSTEM BEYOND THE COASTAL BELT OF KENYA
The campaign on mitigation of plastics erosion into the marine ecosystem needs to extend from the main coastal belt of Kenya to cover the upper catchment areas of the country namely, Mt. Kenya, Aberdare, Mau Forest complex, Cherang’any Hills, and Mt Elgon etc.
THE NEED FOR A CONVERSATION ON THE CHALLENGES POSED BY WASTE EROSION IN THE MARINE ECOSYSTEM
In recent years, the marine ecosystem has been exposed to contamination from human activities. Recently, the number of new pollutants, from nano to microplastics, has reached pristine environments. The populated marine areas globally have been linked to significant solid waste disposal locations. The situation is exacerbated by the mean sea level that has been rising and possibly accelerating and increasing cases of erosion or flooding. Therefore, there has been a growing apprehension that landfill sites at or near these water bodies pose an ever-growing risk to the ecosystems from the likely release of solid and liquid waste materials. The annual waste generation has been growing yearly due to the fast-growing population, rising living standards, and consumption levels. Global production of plastic materials has also been growing. Because of its beneficial qualities and low production cost, plastic has replaced natural, conventional packaging materials. The unfortunate aspect, however, is that the levels of plastic waste have been increasing due to the growing use of plastic in packaging materials, constituting a major threat to the environment. The underlying premise is that out of the approximately 350 million tonnes of plastic produced annually, more than 90% is not recycled. Further, estimates indicate that 10% of this plastic waste ends in the seas and oceans, thus accounting for 85% of the total marine waste.
Management of Marine Plastic Pollution
Management of marine plastic pollution has been founded on the new legal model and interventions being developed. Some of these interventions are undertaken globally by bodies like the Group of twenty (20), the United Nations, and the European Union. The G20 comprises the main plastic manufacturers: the US, China, and Germany are responsible for approximately two-thirds of the global plastic waste came up with the “G20 Action Plan on Marine Litter”. The most significant element of this intervention is plastic waste management through the circular economy model. Government policies should include, although not limited to, the creation of regulations prohibiting the utilization of non-recyclable plastic materials besides supporting bio-based options. There is also the need to curtail the misuse of plastic waste in both formal and informal sectors, integrating extended producer responsibility and supporting marine protection and conservation interventions. It is also instrumental in developing models and strategies that support innovation and knowledge development through research and development coupled with collective policy interventions co-creating. These should include consumers, producers, non-governmental entities, policymakers, representatives of the informal sector, trade associations, retailers, recyclers, and national authorities, among other stakeholders.
The Kenyan Context
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY MALEEN/MARINE PHOTOBANK Plastic waste on Lamu island Image: CHETI PRAXIDES
Interventions revolving around protecting the marine ecosystem are focused on the core topics: population growth, eutrophication, climate change, sustainable waste management, plastic waste, development of new legal solutions, and decision support models that guarantee effective protection of the ecosystem. The underlying mutual interaction between these components highlights the need to assess and develop comprehensive plans and interventions to address the growing challenge of waste erosion in Kenya’s marine ecosystem. Kenyans generate a per capita plastic waste of between 39- 50g daily, of which a paltry 15% is collected and 9% recycled with the resultant residual waste in the form of processed flakes and granules finding its way once again into the environment. This plus the uncollected 85% find their way into waterways as it’s normal for waste to flow downhill with flash floods, or uphill, and in some cases even on tree tops depending on the density of the said items, the topography of the area. This interaction of the elements with the waste is also evidenced when plastics take a long time under direct sunlight, which causes them to crack up into small and sometimes fine particles which in time, being on the ground get washed downhill by rains and flash floods into trenches and eventually into the waterways.
The Need To Mitigate Plastic Pollution Beyond The Main Coastal Belt
Regardless of nearness to oceans or larger waterbodies, it is agreeably a matter of when, and not how the plastics particles will get find their way into the marine ecosystem. It is on this basis that I feel that the campaign on mitigation of plastics erosion into the marine ecosystem needs to extend from the main coastal belt of Kenya to cover the upper catchment areas of the country namely, Mt. Kenya, Aberdare, Mau Forest complex, Cherang’any Hills, and Mt Elgon. These towers feed into the five water basin areas namely, Lake Victoria, Rift Valley, Athi, Tana, and Ewaso Ng’iro North. These great resources are the lifeline to the great ecosystem of the country and the purity of the water in their system determines the quality of health enjoyed within this niche. It is therefore imperative to enjoin these areas in the conversation on mitigation of waste erosion especially plastics into the waterways for many reasons among which the indirect human ingestion of the microparticles would take the lead.
According to ICUN’s (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Issues brief of November 2021, of the 300 Metric tons of plastics produced annually, 14 million tons end up in the oceans annually which forms 80% of all the ocean debris either on the surface or the deep sea sediments. With such a huge level of encroachment of plastic waste into the marine ecosystem, it therefore little wonder how these impacts marine life and by extension human health, there is also the other impact on marine life through ingestion complications, death related to injuries as well as entanglement. To address this threat to humanity and the marine ecosystem, there is a need to put more focus on how we manage our waste, not solely on the shorelines or the beaches but also in the catchment areas of the country, it would be good industry practice to mitigate this erosion firstly by sensitizing the public on the need for separating their waste at source, as demonstrated in the KAWR’s (Kenya Association of Waste Recyclers)National Sustainable waste management drive 2022-2023 program, where waste pickers and the residents, as well as the general public, are being trained on waste separation at source. The program which was launched on the 1st of December 2022 targets to create awareness as well as educate the unemployed youth and women on value extraction from waste towards creating a circular economy so that, and more so in the urban centers for the commercial centers also double as the areas with a high waste generation which is caused by the rural-urban migration phenomenon.
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Fadeeva, Z., & Van Berkel, R. (2021). Unlocking circular economy for prevention of marine plastic pollution: An exploration of G20 policy and initiatives. Journal of environmental management, 277, 111457. 
Horton, A. A., & Barnes, D. K. (2020). Microplastic pollution in a rapidly changing world: implications for remote and vulnerable marine ecosystems. Science of The Total Environment, 738, 140349.  . Available at: https://www.iucn.org/sites/default/files/2022-04/iucn_issues_brief_peatlands_and_climate_change_final_nov21.pdf.  Log in or sign up to view (no date) Facebook. Available at: https://www.facebook.com/100064819113055/posts/537585188412114/?flite=scwspnss&mibextid=3ihFUia7LCwXZstZ (Accessed: December 16, 2022).