Circularity in Kenya

With the help of our partners KCIC and Matchboxology, we’ve put together a brief summary of the difference that circular design could make in Kenya. Scroll on to take a closer look at the challenges and opportunities facing this region.

East Africa’s economic hub


Circularity in Kenya has its roots in traditional rural ways of living. It is not uncommon for farmers to use waste from the farms to feed animals, or for small businesses to adopt waste recycling practices to cut on costs. Yet, while many individual actors implement micro-level circular strategies to manage their production processes, circularity as a concept (and as a practice) is still taking root among medium to large scale businesses.

At the same time, we should note that Kenya has become one of East Africa’s most attractive and exciting economic hubs. Given Kenya’s ambition to transform from a lower-middle income country to an upper-middle income country by 2030, and to provide a high quality of life for its citizens, it is crucial that the transition to a circular society is accelerated.



Quick fixes come with a high cost

Kenya’s cities are growing rapidly, which means demand for land is skyrocketing. A lack of urban planning has resulted in poorly constructed buildings and roads that are expensive to repair and maintain. At the same time, most of the raw materials used in both commercial and residential projects are either imported or mined. This means that as a whole, Kenya’s construction industry has an outsize impact on both resource depletion and carbon emissions.

The problem with plastic

Packaging has been a major focus of conversations about circularity in Kenya. Nationwide programmes like the Kenya Plastic Pact has helped to galvanise multi-stakeholder efforts to eliminate single-use plastics. But there is still a lack of awareness among consumers about how to properly reuse, recycle and deposit plastic packaging. Most businesses and households are not in the habit of sorting and separating their waste. This, met with an already disorganised and fragmented recycling process, means very little of the total plastic used in Kenya is recycled back into the system, with most of it ending in landfills.

A mountain of second-hand clothes

There are huge challenges and opportunities facing Kenya’s textile industry. Its value chain cuts across multiple sectors, employing a diverse workforce that includes cotton farmers, garment workers and designers. A big portion of the market, however, is driven by second-hand clothing, much of it imported from Europe and the Americas. On the one hand, this influx gives local consumers access to affordable fashions. But at the end of the line, these textiles end up choking landfills and rivers across the country. Recycling initiatives are few and far between as it is technically difficult to separate mixed fabrics. Designers are in a unique position to tackle this problem from many angles: starting with what clothes are made of, to how they are sold and where they go when they are no longer new.


To accelerate Kenya’s transition to a circular society, we must bend the line where it matters most. Here are some key opportunities to consider:




  • How can designers, contractors and urban planners work together to build in a way that respects natural ecosystems?

  • How could you raise awareness about the need for plastic recycling, while also educating people about its limits?

  • What could you do to reframe the value of clothing, and extend the life-cycle of textiles?