Managing waste: towards a circular economy

One man’s trash is another’s treasure

Mucai Kunyiha, KAM Vice Chairperson (left) with Juliani, Team leader at Dandora Hip-hop City (centre) and Tobias Alando, KAM Ag. CEO


According to the World Bank, the worlds’ cities generated 1.3 billion tonnes of solid waste in 2012, which amounts to 1.2 kilograms per person daily. With the world’s population continuing to grow, the solid waste generated is expected to increase to 2.2 billion tonnes by 2025.

The waste problem is a global dilemma. However, those living in developing regions, especially the urban poor, have been more affected than those in rich economies.

For instance, the waste problem is a major headache in Africa, which is the second most polluted continent in the world. For decades, a large number of African countries have failed to properly manage waste, leading to overfilled dumpsites.

As a result, this has left African cities dirty as they lack the proper waste management infrastructure. To make matters worse, this is expected to increase in the coming years as the population of Africa continues to grow. According to the Africa futures Report by the Institute of Security Studies, Africa’s population is expected to increase from about 1.2 billion people in 2017 to over 1.8 billion in 2035. Even though the increased population will act in favour of Africa in terms of cheap labour, it will on the other hand increase the waste on the continent especially in urban areas.

Kenya is one of the fastest growing countries on the continent.

According to a UNICEF, Kenya’s population is expected to hit 66 million by 2030. This is certain to aggravate the waste management problem.

According to the African Population and Health Research Centre (APHRC), Nairobi generates an estimated 3,000 tonnes of solid waste per day and only half of this is collected.

And with increased development and migration to the city, the amount of waste in urban areas is expected to rise.

To address the matter, President Uhuru Kenyatta has launched a clean-up campaign to try and reclaim the beauty of the city. The Nairobi County Government has also launched the Safisha Jiji Initiative.

Equally, the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) has partnered with Dandora Hip-hop City (DHC), a community lobby to create awareness on waste management.

According to singer Juliani who leads the lobby, the Dandora group, musicians can play a  critical role  in clean up campaigns.

Mr Abel Kamau, KAM’s manufacturing sector officer, thinks there should be more coordinated and sustainable initiatives to tackle the menace.

The DHC has come up with a programme known as Customer Bora in Dandora that rewards consumers who dispose of waste in what they call ‘Taka banks’ run by  young people. “Waste is a tool, a resource and it has value. It creates opportunities for the youth,” said Juliani.

This creates the notion of a circular economy, whereby resources are reused and recycled as much as possible. The concept has literally taken on one man’s trash is another man’s treasure whereby waste is being recycled and reused to extract the maximum value from it. The concept is gaining traction all over the world as it can be able to reduce the amount of waste in the world. In Kenya, it is already taking root as a number of the unemployed youth are looking to waste as an opportunity to make their lives better. For instance, young farmers are converting waste into renewable energy.

In fact, according to Mr Kamau, Kenya has an unemployment rate of 39.4%, which means for every ten Kenyans at least four are unemployed. However, implementing the circular economy approach is changing this by creating job opportunities. With both consumers and manufacturers producing waste in large numbers, the circular economy approach creates the opportunity to turn the waste into a more valuable resource. This way more products can be produced without relying much on imports. “Circular economy creates a platform to enable the country to run with the resources it currently has,” Abel Kamau says.

Even though it is slowly gaining traction in the country, the approach has the potential to help clear up the effects that the waste problem has come with. A major threat that has come up as a result of the problem of waste management is environment degradation as a result of landfills. With organizations from the private sector mostly handling waste management, most of them do not dispose the waste at the right destination as sometimes the dumpsites are full. This causes them to end up in open fields causing landfills that destroy the land.

Apart from this, waste also causes degradation in terms of air pollution around dumpsites. An example would be Dandora, which hosts one of the city’s dumpsites. The area around the dumpsite is ever covered with a foul stench in the morning according to Juliani. Apart from the environmental degradation, Juliani also comments on the health hazards that the overflowing waste has on the people living in the area.

“The people working at the dumpsite have no protective gear and are ever in danger as they are open to diseases such as Malaria,” he said.

This problem needs to be controlled now before the population grows and the waste increases to the point of no return. According to Abel Kamau, there is a need for a clear system of managing waste. The system needs to start at the point of collection where the waste is characterized and transported to the sites, using roadworthy vehicles that do not lose half of the garbage on the streets as they transport. The system also needs to focus on ways of recycling and reusing the waste so we do not end up with full dumpsites.

In addition, KAM in collaboration with DHC also came up with an event that focussed on creating awareness on waste management especially to the youth. In order to reach the younger generation, the duo used a different approach in terms of music to attract more people and educate them on the waste problem. The event included a hip-hop marathon that saw different artists use their talents to teach the public that managing waste starts at the initial stage, which is the consumer properly disposing of waste.

The waste problem in the country is indeed a disaster that we need to handle. It is time we change our mentality to ensure we stop littering. As a country we need to teach ourselves how to properly dispose waste in the right place. The government on the other hand needs to come up with proper waste management infrastructure and frameworks so as to ensure that the waste doesn’t end up bringing about diseases and environmental degradation.

It is important to also promote the circular economy approach as it has the potential to clear away the waste and in turn produce more resources for the country. The time has come for all Kenyans to do their part in cleaning up our country. Institutions such as KAM and DHC have led the way in showing us how to handle this fete, now it’s our turn to pick up the pace and create a cleaner country for the future generations.