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Banned plastics find new life as oil

Bernard Gitau @benagitau

Seven months ago, Kenya made the bold decision to ban the manufacture, sale and use of plastic bags. The move was celebrated across the globe, with United Nations Environment terming it a milestone in realising a planet pollution-free.

The government, through National Environment Management Authority (Nema), revealed the implementation of the ban was 80 per cent successful. Though the ban is a success story, the country faces major challenges in waste management.

Most urban centres lack basic waste management structures and open dumping is the most popular method of getting rid of waste. Plastic bags are dumped at roadsides, rivers, dumpsites and drainage systems in major towns.

A private investor has, however, found a way to make these plastic bags useful. Alternative Energy Systems Limited (AESL) is producing 60,000 litres a month of crude oil through their plastic carrier bags recycling project. The firm was established in 2015, but the machinery was installed and commissioned last year.

AESL chief executive Officer Rajesh Kent says through the support of Industrial and Commercial Development Corporation (ICDC) they have invested Sh400 million (US$ 4.2 million).

Rajesh says the firm entered into an agreement with Kiambu county for collection of plastics from its five dumpsites. “Kiambu county has licensed over 700 individuals to collect plastics, hence we buy from waste collectors and transport to our premises,” he adds.

The firm collects 10 to 15 tonnes a day. He points out that the plastics are sorted, pre-processed through cleaning then dried. “The dried plastic is grounded into small pieces then put in the reactor. It is melted at a temperature in excess of 550 degrees and then vapourised,” he says.

Rajesh indicated that the vapour is later condensed into the final product – synthetic oil. Synthetic oil is a substitute for industrial diesel oil and is used in a broad range of industrial applications including stationary diesel engines, generation of heat energy (furnaces, boilers) and power generation.

The carbon powder collected at the end of the process would be used to make briquettes. “We sell the oil to steel industries, industries boilers and road contractors,” says Rajesh.

A litre sells at Sh65. The briquettes are sold to cement industries. “We do not recommend carbon briquettes for domestic use because of its unpleasant smell,” he says. Meanwhile, Rajesh advocates for a better waste management strategy, saying it is better than banning plastics.

“The government’s quest to boost the manufacturing sector as one of its big four agenda will be boosted as recycling creates jobs,” he says. KAM CEO Phyllis Wakiaga recently said the decision to allow plastic bottle manufacturers to develop plans to recycle the bottles rather than ban them will create jobs and encourage innovation.

“A sustainable waste management solution looks at addressing behavioural change and economic inequality, which lie at the heart of our waste problem,” said Wakiaga. Rajesh’s firm is spreading its wing to other counties in a bid to eradicate plastic waste.

He points that though the plastic bags have been banned the company can comfortably run for 15-20 years without worrying where to get raw materials.

“There are too many plastic papers in the country. The ban has put a stop on manufacturing but did not look at how to eradicate the already existing plastics in the environment,” he says.

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