- Title: Plastic, plastic everywhere but not for African recyclers
- Date: 9th August 2019
- Summary: NAIROBI, KENYA (FILE) (REUTERS) MORE OF LANDFILL DUMPSITE
- Embargoed: 23rd August 2019 10:05
- Keywords: recycling plastics plastic waste plastic recycling factory Coca-Cola Unilever Nestle
- Location: NAIROBI, KENYA
- City: NAIROBI, KENYA
- Country: Kenya
- Topics: Environment
- Reuters ID: LVA006ARHWCIF
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text:A sea of crumpled bottles spills across the courtyard of Lucy Luo Minghui's $44 million plastic recycling factory that opened in Nairobi this April, one of a slew of regional initiatives to tackle the world's spiralling plastic waste crisis.
She hoped to cash in on the global glut to create low cost textile fibres from plastic bottles. Prices nosedived after China barred the import of low-grade plastic waste in 2017.
But most of the time, Minghui's machines are idle. Minghui cannot get anything close to the 2,000 tons of plastic she wants to recycle each month. She's running at a third of capacity.
"We have machines that in one day needs twenty five tons, and then we have another crushing machine that in one day needs 30 tons. We have those two machines that are not working until enough material comes to us, that is why the machine stopped," said Minghui.
Many African nations struggle to recycle and poor waste collection lies at the heart of the problem.
Like many developing nations, Kenya has no recycling infrastructure; private companies dispose of household rubbish. Waste pickers scavenge through trash bags outside homes and stinking mounds of refuse at dumps to recover the type of plastic that Minghui's factory needs.
Companies like Coca-cola and Unilever founded PETCO Kenya to subsidize the collection of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the plastic commonly used in drinks bottles, because the margins are too low.
The body pays 5 shillings on top of the 19 shillings per kilo Minghui pays collectors for PET bottles.
"If we don't have enough material our business is at a loss because we must pay for workers, electricians, water and rent for this place," said Minghui.
Under pressure from governments and environmentalists, Coca-cola, Nestle, Unilever and Diageo formed an African plastic recycling alliance in March.
In Ghana, eight beverage companies, started the GRIPE recycling initiative and are courting a Canadian company to set up a factory producing textile fibres.
The factory needs 4,000 tons of plastic waste annually but right now the 18-month-old pilot project only collects 1,200 tons a year, as Gabriel Opoku-Asare, Head of social engagement at giant spirits maker- Diageo Africa, tells Reuters.
"We've seen investor interest in Ghana, right now there is a Canadian investor who is looking at putting up a recycling plant for PET plastics in Ghana, and with that the investor wants a certain amount of plastic to be collected per year so that they can guarantee their investment in Ghana. Currently they are based in Canada and they export the plastic from Ghana to Canada, they want to set up in Ghana and GRIPE is working with this investor to show that we can collect a lot more and grow investor confidence for that investor to come and establish a plastic recycling facility in Ghana to turn plastics into fabrics in Ghana," said Opoku.
Consumer brands Coca-Cola Unilever and Nestle are among the world's biggest producers of plastic trash, according to an October 2018 Greenpeace report.
"Nestle's business is purely plastics and statistics show that since 2013 to 2017 their plastic production increased by 5 percent. Even though they are telling us that they are recycling you find that whatever they are producing is increasing every year so that means they are in the business of plastic. They need to take concrete steps, one, to come up with clear plans to eliminate plastics especially single use plastics in all of their processes by developing very comprehensive steps that encourage reusing and refilling mechanisms," said Wemanya.
Global policy experts say Africa's low rate of plastic collection could be transformed if customers pay a deposit, refunded when plastic bottles are returned. Glass bottles already require deposits.
African countries such as Kenya and Rwanda have already banned plastic bags. Now lawmakers are looking at other plastic pollution. Environmentalists want companies to be legally responsible for collecting their waste, and single use plastic to be phased out.
(Edwin Waita, John Ndiso)
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