The Sustainable Waste Management Act, 2022: A paradigm shift in Kenya

In one of his last acts as the head of the Executive arm of government, President Kenyatta signed into law on 7th of July 2022 six parliamentary bills. One of these laws is the Sustainable Waste Management Act, 2022. The Act is the first of its kind to comprehensively deal with waste management in Kenya in the framework of the circular and green economy moving the country towards zero waste goals whilst improving the livelihoods of 50,000 waste pickers in the country, as well as promoting investments in clean energy and agriculture, through waste-to-energy and waste-to-manure facilities respectively. The Act gives life to the constitutional provisions guaranteeing the right to a clean and healthy environment, as well as the economic and social rights to safe water and reasonable standards of sanitation.

The bill was introduced in the National Assembly last year, on 12th of May 2021, and passed by the Assembly in February 2022 with amendments. It was thereafter sent to the Senate given that waste management is a devolved function, where it was passed without amendments in June 2022. For a non-finance or revenue bill, these timelines are admirable. For that, we need to thank the Executive’s push for some last wins for the outgoing President given sustainable waste management is key to the delivery of his Big Four priorities seeking to transform housing, manufacturing, food and nutritional security and healthcare in the country.

Kenya generates 8 million tonnes of waste annually, with 40% of this estimated to be from urban areas. 70% of this waste is organic waste, 20% plastic, 10% paper, 1% medical waste, and 2% metal and others. The country’s 45 Million population is growing at the rate of 2% per annum, with urbanization expected to increase by 10% by 2030. Urban waste could easily thus triple by 2030. The Act could not have come at a more opportune time for the country to explore its social and economic benefits in generating employment, and promoting clean energy and food security in the country.

As to its environmental utility, we know that Kenya’s poor have borne the brunt of waste dumped around their households. Open dumpsites such as the Dandora dumpsite are home to toxic chemicals which result in cancer, respiratory problems and skin infections. Plastic and e-waste in particular are harmful to women working around the dumpsite as they contain and leach hazardous chemicals into the environment, including endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), which negatively impact reproductive health. The Act’s intention to shut down all such open dumpsites is truly transformative.

The Act in a nutshell establishes a legal and institutional framework to sustainably manage waste and move the country towards a circular economy. Waste is to be separated at source from household level, appropriately collected, and transported, reused, recycled, and the remaining waste stream sent to a secure sanitary landfill. All public and private entities are required to segregate non-hazardous waste into organic and non-organic waste. The Act is robust on non-compliance. Fines for non-compliance are set at KES 20,000 and/or six months imprisonment.

It will also be illegal for waste service providers to transport non-segregated waste with fines for non-compliance set at KES 50,000 and/or six months imprisonment. In addition, private entities that fail to segregate hazardous and non-hazardous waste will be compelled to pay 5% of their net income in the previous year or pay a fine of KES 5 Million, whichever is higher, with the responsible officers paying a fine of KES 200,000 each. The officers will continue to pay further fines, up to KES 20,000 on a daily basis if violations subsist after conviction. All grievances regarding waste management are to be submitted to the National Environment Complaints Committee. Grievances relating to licenses for waste management activities, fees or restoration orders imposed by the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) are however to be filed at the National Environment Tribunal.

The Act further segregates the role of the Cabinet secretary, and county governments regarding enacting guidelines, standards and regulations. It establishes a waste management council to manage waste in the country which council is inclusionary. It comprises of a Chairperson appointed by the President and a Vice-Chairperson appointed by the Council of Governors(CoG), as well as the Director-General of NEMA, representatives from the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA), the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM), the civil society, a waste management expert, and three other members who may be co-opted into the Council to offer specific expertise.

In addition, the Act introduces mandatory extended producer responsibility of businesses producing products and packaging to take responsibility for their products’ life-cycles. It provides for take-back schemes for those products and packaging that may cause negative impacts on the environment, to be returned to the seller after their use. It also provides for the administration of materials recovery facilities, which are to be established, at the ward level, for final sorting and recovery of waste. The Act in addition provides for the duties of both private and public sector companies, which among others entails inclusion of waste management sections in their strategic plans.  Fines for non-compliance range from KES 200,000-KES 1,000,000,00 which may be in addition to custodial sentences of 3 months to a year. The Act recognizes the principle of public participation and provides for a schedule outlining procedure for these engagement.

A key highlight of the Act is its requirement of NEMA to establish a national information system for waste management and to act as the national knowledge centre on sustainable waste management. It is expected to do so whilst liaising and supporting ministries, agencies, and counties, the latter governments whom are also mandated to collect data including keeping a register of waste service providers.

To encourage industry, the Act compels the Cabinet secretary to introduce incentives for locally produced and imported sustainable waste management equipment and materials, as well as for the preferential use of recovered or recycled materials over newly manufactured materials with no recycled content. County governments are also compelled to incentivize the collection and separation of waste at source in neighborhoods and informal settlements.

Ultimately, regulations are required to operationalize the act, with timelines for these set at 2 years upon commencement of the Act.

The incoming Cabinet Secretary’s in-tray is undoubtedly full, however the inclusion of value chain players including the private sector and civil society to manage the Act means that all necessary hands are on deck to ensure implementation takes off efficiently at both the national and county levels. Realizing the Act is an attainable goal, and will be a massive feather in the cap of the secretary in charge, if they are so inclined.

If you wish to learn more about sustainable waste management in Kenya, please reach out to me at  

Photo credit: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN 2013

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In one of his last acts as the head of the Executive arm of government, President Kenyatta signed into law on 7th of July 2022 six parliamentary bills. One of these laws is the Sustainable Waste Management Act, 2022. The Act is the first of its kind to comprehensively deal with waste management in Kenya…

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