Recycled poles answer to plastic waste menace and wanton deforestation

In a country that has over the years decried wanton destruction of forests which has taken a toll on environmental conservation, while chocking from the plastic bags eyesore, new and innovative ways of utilizing the bags while easing pressure on trees is giving the country a new lease of life.

A burgeoning construction industry, farming activities and demand for fuelwood especially by rural households has seen an unprecedented demand. According to a study by Green Africa Foundation, Kenya loses 5.6 million trees daily with deforestation costing the country approximately $68 million annually.

This, despite the country still struggling to reach the envisioned 10 per cent forest cover, which currently stands at 7 per cent according to the National Forest Programme 2016-2030.

Plastic waste eyesore

On the other hand, waste management especially in Kenya’s capital still remains a headache. On average Nairobi generates more than 3,000 tonnes of solid waste on a daily basis, 20 per cent of which is plastic. Dumping and poor handling of this waste has seen designated dump sites like the Dandora dumpsite swell beyond capacity, while the plastic paper bags liter the streets with ripple effects which include clogged drainage systems.

The Green solution

But a group of vanguard entrepreneurs have sought to combine the plastic menace and the demand for building materials to come up with plastic poles which are long lasting, environmental friendly and sturdy compared to traditional wooden poles. The poles which have caught the attention of farmers, government and property owners are known to last 50 years compared to wooden poles that have a five year lifespan. They are also known to be highly resistant to termites which are the greatest threats to wooden poles and don’t seem to crack when nails and other fasteners are nailed into them. 

Jack Omanga runs Ecofit technologies and was among the pioneers in rolling out the plastic poles concept in the country. Since setting up his business four years ago, he has managed to sell over 200,000 poles and cannot sate the growing demand.

He has 40 workers spread across the production chain from collecting the plastic waste across the city to coming up with the final product. Once the waste is brought to the recycling plant, it is first sorted based on quality. It is then washed, crushed, melted and moulded into desirable shapes based on customers’ demands. “Business is good so far. When people realized the value of the plastic poles and what they mean to the environment, we have been receiving orders across the country even from government agencies who use them in the streets where traditionally, metal poles supporting road signs would be vandalized and sold to steel making companies,” Jack said.

Modern farmers have also been avid customers due to the poles’ lifespan. “They tell us that the wooden poles were susceptible to termite attacks so would do little to keep off rodents and other pests,” he added. 

Widespread support

Environmentalists and advocates of clean energy have hailed this new approach saying it goes a long way in conserving the environment and halting the negative impacts of climate change.  Dr. Liz Muraguri from the Kenya Forestry Research Institute, KEFRI, says that

A kilo of plastic waste on average saves 2.5 kilos of carbon emissions with a tree being saved for any ten plastic posts produced.

“It is a game changer especially considering that some of the greatest culprits in felling of trees including farmers and property developers have been the key customers of the plastic poles. Such innovative projects are the only sure bets to protecting our environment and saving our forests,” she said.

As Kenya looks to achieving the 10 per cent UN forest cover quota, the new breed of environmental entrepreneurs are taking the front seat in ensuring an easier alternative to this resolve while restoring the former glory of a capital christened the green city under the sun.