By Josphine Wawira.

I met Naftal Kobags and his group of 14 youthful Coastarians in 2020. They were trainees in the first phase of our COAST Project in Mombasa, facilitated by Sustainable Inclusive Business Kenya on sustainable waste management, converting waste to money-making business cases, entrepreneurship, business skills, and financial literacy. Their enthusiasm was quite captivating but more encouraging is that visiting them one year later in 2021, they were applying the skills learned during the training to create a sustainable income while protecting the environment.

Guided by the belief that businesses can become circular and sustainable with positive impacts on the planet, people and profits, this project has helped the youth and women earn an income that was otherwise not forthcoming especially due to the high unemployment rate; worsened by the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. At Sustainable Inclusive Business, we aim to continue providing opportunities that enhance youth and women’s skills through existing programs geared towards creating green jobs. For Naftal and his team, it increased their business skills, key in successfully implementing and scaling their operations including their ambitious plastic waste recycling plan.

According to The International Labor Organization (ILO), global employment could grow by an estimated six million jobs by transitioning to a circular economy. This will be made possible by replacing the traditional economic model of “take-make-waste” with circular activities like recycling, repair, rent and re-manufacture.

Most of you will agree that a beneficial transition towards a circular economy with positive impacts on most people requires a deliberate mindset change by policy-makers, businesses and the broader public including you and I. We must leave no one behind. Particularly, providing relevant skills development and training opportunities to the youth and women is crucial, including in areas such as waste-to-value.

A systematic approach is also required, ensuring that the knowledge we provide is linked to global and local targets and markets, with national and local policies, actions and business opportunities.

On May 16th, 2023, I moderated a panel discussion on Green Jobs during the Pre-World Environmental Day Youth and Women Dialogue organized by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). 

The objective of the session was to learn from concrete experiences and case studies of circular economy trailblazers principally in the plastics space, to help us understand how they have developed and shaped enabling opportunities within their business models for the creation of decent employment and green jobs. I was honoured to engage with the panelists including:

Agnes Mwandawiro – Creative Director, ArtMax Designs

Dr Tayba Hatimy – Executive Director, Baus Taka Enterprise

Calvin SHIKUKU 🇰🇪 – CEO, Generation Unlimited

Benson Abila – Founder- Mtaka

 From the engagements, we were able to come up with these Key Outcomes/Takeaways:

  1. Only about 8% of plastic is recycled in Kenya, with the remainder being landfilled or incinerated. In the worst-case scenario, it ends up in the environment. This presents an opportunity for the youth and women to venture and invest in Kenya’s plastic recycling and refurbishment business.
  2. There is a need for increased behaviour change education and awareness creation to promote responsible plastic consumption and waste management as well as adopting eco-friendly alternatives. From the primary level of education to the higher level of learning including TVET, sustainability and environmental protection curriculum should be incorporated.
  3. Urgency is required in providing relevant skills development and training opportunities to the youth and women especially MSMEs in areas of waste management such as waste-to-value concepts.
  4. Partnerships for the goals (SDG17) are crucial in green job creation. Waste output for one industry and/or company should be an input for another; therefore, collaboration is key. It was encouraging to see the exchange of contacts between interested individuals and companies during the session, with interest to continue with conversations past the event. It’s safe to therefore conclude that the platform played a linkage role for possible future job creation opportunities through partnerships.
  5. Investment in climate smart innovations is encouraged to help young innovators scale the creation of sustainable alternatives to single-use plastic.
  6. Research will help to identify skills gaps and therefore aid in creating relevant job opportunities in the plastic value chain, especially in areas of sustainable product design, and recycling.
  7. The Kenya Plastics Pact, of which some of the panelists are members, is boosting green jobs by providing a platform to co-design, ensuring investment and implementation of collaborative projects and innovations to tackle key challenges in the value chain including design, collection, sorting, recycling and boosting the end markets for recycled material.
  8. The Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) regulations will help accelerate the creation of green jobs in Kenya through the formalization of the informal waste sector, the establishment of MRFs and the increase of recycling activities/businesses.

The World Environment Day (WED) is celebrated annually on June 5th to raise awareness and promote action on environmental issues. It serves as a platform for global dialogue and collaboration to address pressing environmental challenges. This year, Africa will celebrate WED in Abidjan, and Kenya, celebrations will take place in Nakuru, led by the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change and Forestry. The theme of this year’s celebrations is #BeatPlasticPollution.

Read remarks from other speakers during the UNEP Dialogue.

Josephine Wawira is the Circular Economy Communications Lead at Sustainable Inclusive Business, the Knowledge Center under the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA).

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