The United Nations Development Programme indicates that 1.3 billion tonnes of food go to waste annually, while about two billion people go hungry or are undernourished. Another two billion people are overweight or obese.
Statistics also show that up to 700 million people will be displaced by 2030 due to water scarcity, while 30 to 40 per cent of all food produced worldwide is lost or wasted, placing an unnecessary strain on the environment.
Further, publications in Science Advances indicate over 8.3 billion metric tonnes of plastic waste have been generated to date. Only 9 per cent of the waste has been recycled while 12 per cent has been incinerated. The rest is in landfills, dump sites and the environment, with a significant amount washing up ashore.
To protect the planet and provide fair social conditions for current and future generations, we all need to interrogate the role we play in the production and consumption of goods and services, and the impact on the environment.
This challenge calls for coordinated global action by consumers, and a sustained campaign by governments and consumer bodies to encourage sustainable consumption, including development of necessary policies.
It is for this reason that this year’s World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD) is shining a spotlight on consumers’ role in the production and consumption of goods and services, and the attendant environmental impact.
The theme of the event – celebrated every March 15 – this year is ‘Sustainable Consumer’.
The day aims to raise awareness of consumers’ rights, needs and obligations, as well as how to seek restitution in cases where those rights are infringed upon.
There is need for behavioural change in the business community to adopt sustainability models. Other interventions should include interrogating the sustainability of the entire value chain by, for instance, ensuring that raw materials are safe and recyclable.
Recyclable and or reusable packaging is another way of addressing plastic waste. It is key to note that the Kenyan government banned plastic carrier bags in 2017. Further, it has announced a ban on single-use plastics on beaches, national parks, forests and conservation areas from June 5 this year.
Manufacturers should also start producing goods that are built to last, especially electronics, which are now ubiquitous in our lives. This will significantly lower the amount of e-waste produced.
The Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK) considers the WCRD 2020 a key opportunity to sensitise and empower consumers to make sustainable choices that will contribute positively to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals.
The authority has so far conducted consumer campaigns in Migori, Kisumu and Kakamega Counties.
The key message is the power of consumers in making purchase, use and disposal choices and their ability to influence the whole system by demanding more sustainable products and services.
Sustainable consumption will boost resource efficiency and fair trade while helping alleviate poverty and enable everyone to enjoy a good quality of life with access to food, water, energy, medicine and more.
Businesses also stand to gain – as more discerning consumers agitate for sustainable products, companies that are aligned to this stand to gain a competitive advantage over their rivals.
We wish every Kenyan a happy World Consumer Rights Day!
The writer is Director, Competition and Consumer Protection at CAK. Email: [email protected]