Waste recycling in Kenya

Waste recycling in Kenya

Practical Action sponsors a waste management project among people who live on a rubbish dump a few kilometres outside Nakuru in western Kenya. This project uses vermiculture to compost organic waste, which gives some of Africa's poorest people the means to earn a living.

a family house on the dump at Nakuru
Nakuru is an agricultural town in western Kenya, about 140 miles west of Nairobi, and was once the cleanest in east and central Africa. Having been the capital of the colonial white highlands, Nakuru's industrial area, together with other vibrant economic activities around it, were the envy of other towns in the country – until the late 1970s, when environmental standards began to decline.

However, efforts are being made to reclaim its lost glory, through a partnership project that operates under the banner "Together for a cleaner Nakuru". Through various events and activities that create a wider and an effective awareness among the residents of Nakuru about environmental issues, Practical Action East Africa is developing plans to redress the situation, in close partnership with the Municipal Council of Nakur, Nakuru Business Association and the National Environment Management Authority.

Approximately 5,200 acres of land in the town is used for crops, and many residents keep livestock. It is estimated that around 260 tonnes of waste is generated each day. Types of municipal waste include household, commercial and industrial waste, and livestock manure. Most recyclable material – plastics and metals – has been picked out by scavengers in the town before the waste is dumped. One third of livestock keepers dump animal waste in public places, but the majority use it as fertiliser.

Practical Action is working closely with a group of solid waste collectors known Nakuru Waste Collectors and Recyclers Management (NAWACOM), which has a membership of 146.

Such community-based organisations play an important role in contributing to the management of solid waste generated in the municipality. They complement the municipal council's efforts by reducing the amount of waste to be collected as they retrieve the reusable materials. Their activities are also a source of income, as they sell the recyclable materials to manufacturers.

A plastic-shredding machine in use in Nakuru
Isaack Mwangi is the chairman of NAWACOM, and is also the manager of a plastic recycling plant that is run by the members of NAWACOM:

"We have a plastic shredder, for which we were supported by Practical Action. This plastic shredder cuts into smaller particles, so it can be more easily packed. We have an order ready, a market for the crushed plastic in Nairobi."

The plastic shredder produces 250 kg of plastic per hour from machine, which can be sold for 24 schillings per kilo.

A short distance from the plastic recycling plant is a bone mill, that is managed by Richard Gakuo, a member of NAWACOM. This mill processes bones collected by members for eventual sale to manufacturers: "We get bones from collectors, most of whom are members of NAWACOM, and we pay three shillings per kilo. After that we start processing."

In view of the benefits acruing from recycled waste, the Together For A Cleaner Nakuru project intends to put up a modern organic waste compositing plant.

Practical Action began working with people on the dumpsites in 2005 and has had to find ways to improve the quality of life for these salvagers while also enabling them to move off the rubbish dump and build a decent life elsewhere. One key step has been to organise formal national identity cards, to enable people to get out into the workplace. "In Kenya, it is hard to get even casual work without an identity card," said project manager Patrick Mwanzia. "Employers want to make sure you can't just disappear with their money."

children scavenging on the dump at Nakuru
We also support a local church, that has built a simple school on its grounds for the local children, so another generation will not grow up with no choice but to live on the dump.  It has provided compost bins and machines to make charcoal bricks, so the Mewarema women collecting the raw ingredients can make money faster, and hopefully save up enough to move off the dumpsite. 

Practical Action also sets up occasional medical clinics so the salvagers can come to treat the various infections they catch from eating rotting food and walking barefoot on land scattered with used hyperdermic needles and razor blades.

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Practical Action East Africa, with Egerton University, has also recently been carrying out training in Integrated Solid Waste Management at Nakuru. Aimed at small-scale service providers and municipal council officers, the training aims to improve living conditions and create jobs for the poor, through effective and integrated sustainable solid waste management.

The training's objectives included:

  • improve the living and working conditions, particularly in low-income settlements, by improving capacity to deliver basic solid waste management services
  • increase employment opportunities and higher income for small enterprises and community organisations
  • provide technical, entrepreneurial and related skills to manage solid waste
  • change attitudes to promote solid waste management as a respectable sector

Practical Action also supported Nakuru municipal council's 2005 workshop for local policy makers on Integrated Environmental Management, which aimed to map out roles in improving the environment.

Nancy Kagure Mbugua, Nanyuki Municipal Council
"The training was very important and helpful. The most important thing I learnt was about change of attitude. Most people feel that it is not their duty to help manage the level of waste in their areas of residence, and mainly see it as the duty of the council. From the training, I learnt that all of us should be responsible for our own environment.

"As a sociologist, I deal a lot with women's groups and self-help groups, and therefore when I go back home, I will start training them on how to take care of their environment and on waste separation."

Peter Mudina, proprietor, Rural Tree Nursery, Nanyuki
"Kweli taka taka ni mali - it is true, waste is money! That is the main thing I learnt here. I did not know about waste issues until I came here. I used to just dispose of my waste into a dug-out pit, and to throw hazardous waste into a pit latrine. Now I realise that I could actually utilise the waste to earn some money. I learnt about business management issues. Now I know better ways of managing my business. I also learnt a lot about waste recycling.

"When I go back home, I am going to branch out to organic waste composting and begin my own business using the skills I learnt here."

Read more about the work of Practical Action East Africa in improving livelihoods in Nakuru and similar urban centres

read about this project in The IndependentRead about this project in The Independent

No money, no jobs - welcome to life on the scrapheap
Meera Selva reports on a Practical Action project in western Kenya (The Independent, 21 December 2005)

A Better Place

The Independent Christmas Appeal 2005
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