Mounting COVID-19-related waste poses new threat to Kenya's environment

2021-03-15 14:55:35 GMT2021-03-15 22:55:35(Beijing Time) Xinhua English

NAIROBI, March 15 (Xinhua) -- Used gloves, face masks and sanitizer bottles are some of the new waste rising in Kenya due to COVID-19 pandemic.

"With COVID-19, we have an increased challenge with waste. The protective materials have complicated the country's waste crisis," said Robert Orina, the deputy director for compliance at the National Environment and Management Authority, acknowledging that COVID-19 has worsened Kenya's waste problem.

As the east African nation grapples with a third wave of the disease that has seen cases surge to an average of 800 a day, up from less than 100, the waste arising from COVID-19 is also rising.

In the capital Nairobi, most dumpsites have become a sea of blue surgical masks, with the waste related to COVID-19 being the most-dominant in the environment. The problem has been compounded by the fact that the cost of the protective gear has dropped drastically to 5 shillings a piece (about 4 U.S. cents).

Robert Orina said some of the COVID-19 protection gears like face masks and gloves contain plastic materials, which makes them more hazardous to the environment. "These gadgets are mainly for single use, which means the waste generated is huge. They not only pose an environmental problem but are a major public health concern," he said.

According to Orina, before the COVID-19 pandemic, Kenya consumed more than 260,000 tonnes of single-use plastics annually, but this has increased. "We import over 185,000 tonnes of low-cost plastic materials. Some 44,000 tonnes is plastic packaging for single-use," he said.

The east African nation, however, has very low recycling capacity, with 85 percent of waste not recycled. "Initially, at least over 260,000 tonnes of plastics were released into the environment every year. But with COVID-19, this has increased significantly," said Orina, who was speaking at a forum to mark World Consumer Rights Day Monday.

Kenya banned the use of plastic carrier bags in 2017 as they had become the largest source of pollution in the country.

With the onset of the pandemic, the new challenge arose, with the COVID-19 waste not only becoming a health concern, but also an eyesore, an agricultural and tourism problem.

There is some hope to the mounting crisis though. Priyen Tanna, the chairperson Kenya for Extended Producer Responsibility Organisation, said while the pandemic has brought unexpected waste challenges, companies have started to recycle face masks and sanitizer bottles, some turning them into fuel. Enditem