Unlike our neighboring countries, who refuse to permit plastic bags to cross the borders and make no plastic bags within their domains, Kenya has been repeatedly unable to cap plastic bag production. As a result, our streets and fields are littered with plastic bags, water bottles (tourists, please have a little sensibility about this issue), and other assorted bits of unwanted plastic, glass and metal trash.
So I’ve been doing a little homework, learning about what other communities are doing to manage excessive amounts of predominantly plastic trash, given that incineration in rural communities is not an option.
My initial thinking was that we need to send the trash back where it comes from, and begin making those responsible for its overproduction be the ones who have to cope with it. However, we are all culpable to one degree or another. Here are three ideas we can implement that cost us nothing:
- The first active step you can take at the personal level is to shop with woven grass baskets called kikapus or other cloth shopping bags that you carry with you into the shops. This is not a difficult thing to do if you return the empty bags to handbag or car, so they are available next time you need them. Make sure the shopping bag is completely bio-degradable – grass, hemp, burlap, or cotton – and not polyester, which is also a plastic.
- Then, whenever you buy anything wrapped unnecessarily in plastic, remove plastic wrappings while still in the shop and ask the shop owner to discard it. This simple action alerts shop owners and managers that unnecessary plastic wrappings, that soon become trash, are unwanted. This is a preliminary step towards informing plastic manufacturers to cut back on production, even if they must raise prices. We pay for the plastic trash anyway, so let us pay not to have it! This step also leaves the trash much closer to the source than if you carry it home, especially if traveling to rural areas.
- Thirdly, whenever you go to town, carry some trash back to the city. It can be discreetly discarded in public places in cities without attracting undue attention. Again, every piece of plastic rubbish that goes back to a city is one less in the countryside! If a couple of million people do the same, the cities would be clogged with trash, but the countryside would be clean, natural resources and wildlife protected from harm (except for poachers, but I’m not going there)!
These simple acts cost nothing to perform. Practiced by increasing numbers of people, they can be effective in cleaning up the countryside and putting pressure on producers of the trash. The ideas, however, must become ingrained in the population through additional education.
Then, we’ve learned of several ongoing projects, both without and within Africa, to recycle plastic trash. Crocheted and knitted plastic bag shopping totes, the discarded multicolored flip-flop beaded curtains and other such initiatives make work. They generate income for some people who otherwise would not have that cash flowing. The down side is that these projects merely postpone the inevitable. Eventually all the plastic trash goes back into the rubbish tip or worse, into the bush.
One of the better ideas is the notion of building with discarded plastic trash. Flattened plastic bottles can make roof shingles. Plastic bottles laid on their sides can work as building blocks to make walls. Again, however, this solution is fraught with difficulties. Who wants a house roofed with dirty plastic; that is, unless you have no house at all? How well will the plastics hold up as building materials under the hot tropical sun, and what happens to the trash when the house comes down?
Perhaps the most appealing of these ideas is what the Indians are doing – adding melted plastic trash to tarmac and using the new mix to build roads! Apparently, the cost of making roads in this way is a little higher than using only tarmac, but the roads last longer.
Although it may be optimism on my part, it would be nice to think the powers that be would follow the Indian prototype and start giving this country some decent roads outside the major urban areas. Goodness knows, we surely do need a new road between Kampi ya Samaki and Marigat! I’m wondering which will give out first, my back or the suspension in my car!!
Then, if we can find a way to tear up and recycle old paving by mixing it with new, the way potters grind up old pottery to add to new clay for improved performance properties, perhaps we could have plastic roads that would either last a very long time or disintegrate in a positive way for the environment. The difficulty with this solution is that it must be a project undertaken at the national level, and in Africa the wheels of government turn slowly.
To take immediate action against the accumulation of trash at the local community level, it seems we must first collect all the rubbish in the community and then haul it to Nairobi. We hear that dumping at the Nakuru public dump is risky business, leaving dumpers subject to mugging and robbery.
There are, we hear, some recycling projects going on in Nairobi. These, we would like to know more about, so if you have any information, please comment to this post; thanks!
Then, it seems we need a lorry to haul the trash, and a permit from NEMA (the National Environmental Management Authority) before we can transport it.
Lots to be done, starting with a meeting of local officials to garner their support. Maybe I should give up blogging and get busy picking up trash and doing what they do in Jamaica – planting banana plants in potholes!!