The waste management crisis in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city, is alarming, and it draws the attention of both local and international organizations. A simple walk through the heart of the city reveals an ugly and disturbing situation of things.

Nairobi Trash wasteland area

The streets are hosts to indiscriminate dumping of waste. Waste collection is delayed, disposal is ineffective, and the city’s council is making slow progress in fixing the issue.

The city officials have rightly admitted that it cannot manage the growing waste crisis in the city. To begin with, the city generates way more waste than its waste management system can handle.

The principal dumpsite is the 500,000 tonnes capacity Dandora landfill, built in the early 1970s, which currently holds more than 1.8 million tonnes of waste. More waste keeping pouring in daily.

There’s no segregation of waste; everything from household to industrial and medical waste goes into the same old dumpsite. The stench emanating from the rubbish dump could hit your nostrils from as far 1 kilometer away.

Experts believe that the impending health issues could be catastrophic to the city’s population, suggesting that immediate action needs to be taken.

Since health-related waste is often very expensive, health providers in the city should adopt a sustainable medical waste plan.

Nairobi generates over 2,400 tonnes of solid waste every day, which exceeds the capacity of both the government and private waste management outfits. The situation is really worrisome as city officials are frantically searching for ways to rectify the mess.

It would have been easier to clear the waste mess in Nairobi if the city officials can learn from American Waste Events.  They can replicate the same events in Nairobi. These events will help to educate residents on the need to keep Nairobi clean and beautiful.

Again, if residents of Nairobi have access to the guide on how to reduce waste, the waste situation in the city will reduce drastically.

Underlying Causes

Most city residents have waste lying in front of their homes for days and even weeks. And it’s usually due to delays by waste hauling companies in moving them. This is especially true for residential areas in the Eastlands and some parts of the posh Westlands.

The city’s lower-income settlements are not spared either. Unsightly piles of garbage, which remain uncollected on the city’s streets limit the vehicular movements in the area.

Large waste bins overfilled and spilling out

A major cause of this mess is the gross failure of the government to rid the waste management system of corruption and poor management. For example, the 30-acre Dandora dumpsite was constructed in the 1970s to hold only 500,000 tonnes of waste. It exceeded this limit since 2001, but there’s no sustainable alternative yet.

Again, if you have a facility in Nairobi, you can activate a waste streams management solution to enable you dispose of your waste properly.

Dandora remains the main waste dump. It is unfenced, and waste dumping is unregulated. The lack of regulation of refuse dumping is another major cause of the unfortunate spillage of waste.

 According to local surveys and the UN Environment Programme, as of 2012, between 850 – 2,000 tonnes of solid waste are deposited daily at Dandora.

The roads that lead to the dumpsite have been bad for years. This means that movement is slowed and the cost of repairs is increased for the truck owners. In fact, some of the wastes spill along the way, creating an unsightly mess.

 More than 100 trucks move trucks daily to the dumpsite. Also, they each have to wait for about four hours to offload. These delays translate to the accumulation of waste in different parts of the city.

Furthermore, these truck drivers pay a fee to touts at the dumpsites before they can offload. Without these, they do not allow the trucks to offload. This is a concern that the city council needs to handle.

Dumping of waste is unrestricted, even as a daily stream of waste trucks line up to offload here. Only one bulldozer moves rotting waste inner into the dumpsite. When this happens or when they burn the waste, a far-travelling foul smell is released into the air.

Interestingly, much of the waste at Dandora is recoverable and can be resold. Because these wastes are not subjected to sorting or segregation, wastes, which could have been recycled, are sent to dumpsites. This, of course, aids the accumulation of waste.

To make matters worse, folks from the low-income settlements surrounding the dumpsite scavenge the dumpsite for valuable items. In addition to the city council’s waste management authority, over 150 private waste companies are operating in the city.

Unfortunately, there is no strong enforcement of laws and regulations. This does not mean that government authorities have not made efforts in the past. In fact, besides recent efforts, there was an agreement in the early 1990s among private and civil society actors to salvage the situation.

They signed exclusive contracts with major waste generators, but they did these without the involvement of city authorities. More strategies have been explored, but most were mostly unsustainable.

In fact, the root cause of the unhealthy accumulation of waste in Nairobi is the squabble among the unregistered waste collection groups for the millions in Nairobi’s city council. In other words, the city’s waste management authority is home to corrupt practices.

One more primary cause of the waste crisis in Nairobi is the lack of sufficient or adequate waste management infrastructure. The over 4 million inhabitants of Nairobi already generate way more solid waste that the city can handle.

The matter is further aggravated by the inadequacy of equipment, gadgets, and infrastructural shortfalls in the system. For instance, most of the operators are small organizations managed by young people, which use handcarts to move waste. Because of the limitation on mobility, they dump wastes at undesignated sites.

The Franchise Model

Earlier, the government made a failed attempt to revamp the sector. It planned to streamline waste disposal using the franchise model. This involved the division of the city into nine zones, with intentions to make waste collection and disposal easier to manage.

At the start of implementation in 2014, they launched two pilot projects. Basically, City Hall sought private companies to do the collection of garbage. But at the end of the selection process, the County selected just one company for the job. 

However, the plan failed because the County didn’t give the plan necessary publicity. People caught onto the project too late due to a lack of awareness, and that was the beginning of its failure. Following that, very few households subscribed to the project, and there was no segregation of waste at pick-up points.

As of 2017, only 5% of the targeted households have subscribed to the service. In the end, the project flopped. Besides the fact that the city council selected only one company to run the project, the management of the process could have been better.

This act by the government prompted the Waste and Environmental Management Association of Kenya (WEMAK) to challenge it in court. WEMAK is the umbrella body of companies that offer waste management services in Nairobi.

Since 2012, Japan has tried and is still committed to alleviating the burden of solid waste management in Nairobi. The Japan International Corporation Agency (JICA) offered to use scientific methods to extend the use of Dandora dumpsite.

However, the project has yet to yield much fruit either. A major drawback to the project is the weak dedication on the part of the Kenyan government towards implementation.

Mr. Madea, the Japanese leader on the execution team, noted then that the lack of effective communication among stakeholders. This circle also includes residents, and affects the success of the project in no small way. In addition, he commented that the commitment of the officials championing the project is poor.

Another reason for the failure of the franchise model was the lack of cohesive cooperation among stakeholders – private and public – in solid waste management. Unfortunately, instead of committing allocated funds to actual municipal waste management, officials prefer to fatten their pockets.

Sham appointments riddled the entire process. Because the government fails to collaborate with competent private sector players, all major efforts have so far failed.

Air Pollution and Health Concerns 

Accumulation of waste arises from two actions; the delay in moving waste off designated collection points and poor disposal methods. 

Dandora already bears more than three times its capacity, and until a sustainable alternative is created, there’s no telling the gravity of health risks it poses. This is by far the biggest concern to authorities.

Air pollutant and Woman wearing a facemask

Prof Shem Wandiga, a lecturer at Nairobi University, sounded a warning about air pollution if the dumpsite is not closed down sooner. According to experts, the 30-year old dumpsite has a 14-year shelf life. This is a major health threat to residents.

Some of the waste that spills from trucks enters into Nairobi River, polluting the water source for downstream farmers and dwellers.

Way Forward

JICA is still committed to the waste project in Nairobi. However, the Japanese government insists that it will only demonstrate its commitment if the Kenyan government is equally committed.

This includes eliminating corruption, refining internal processes and cutting out unnecessary bureaucracies, and rolling out public education on waste disposal.

Nairobi can manage the waste disposal within the city effectively, but the right structure needs to be in place. Waste separation and recycling need to be incorporated into the process, especially before disposal.

Another recommendation from JICA is the fencing of the existing dumpsite. Implementing all of these will usher in the second phase of JICA’s input in the process. Although there are challenges, construction is on-going and nearing completion.

For not recycling most of the waste they generate, Nairobi city could be throwing money away.