Solid waste management key to livable cities for all

Diana Ngaira, Nairobi Community Manager
Nairobi, 17 March 2016

Cities in developing countries are rapidly urbanizing, and the ever-ballooning populations that result are putting increased pressure on municipalities and local administrators to provide adequate social services and associated infrastructure. Nairobi is no stranger to the challenges faced by rapid urbanization, which has resulted in the growth of unplanned and informal settlements. Sanitation and waste management are becoming critical areas of concern in these settlements, with gaps between demand and supply exacerbated by the lack of technical and financial capacity of actors in the sector, low levels of investment and technology, lack of adequate infrastructure and support services, as well as limited participation of the private sector (including informal sector workers in the waste management value chain). Because of this, poor people living in informal settlements bear a disproportionate burden of market failures, negatively impacting their health, productivity and well-being.

Inclusive waste management systems have the power to transform living environments in informal settlements and create sustainable business enterprises. There are a broad range of activities that can be monetized along the entire value chain, including: separation, sorting, transportation, reuse and recycling, and resource recovery.

One organization that has taken advantage of this growing need and turned it into a business opportunity is called City Garbage Recyclers, which evolved from a Savings and Credit Cooperative (SACCO). The SACCO provides solid waste management services to communities living in Maringo and Jericho in Nairobi.

"We were established in 1994. Initially, we focused on domestic waste, which was mostly organic kitchen waste. We collected it using trolleys on bicycles. After doing this for a while, we realized that we could use some of the waste we collected instead of just disposing it," Chairman Fredrick Maina explains.

City Garbage Recyclers began sorting the waste they collected, retrieving the relatively fresh vegetable material, which they fed to goats and rabbits that they reared. The total ‘real waste’ was then recycled to form compost. This now produces a total of five tons of highly phosphorous manure every month, which is packed into 10 to 50 kilogram sacks for sale. However, the organization faced stiff competition from commercially produced fertilizers, and had to diversify its business.

In 2006, they ventured into the recycling of plastics. They collect plastic material from the community and bought it from waste pickers; this material is crushed, graded and pelletized. They now have the capacity to produce up to 10 tons of sellable plastic every week, which can be moulded into buckets, hangers, pegs, poles and plates. They intend to brand the products to make them more valuable and are working with partners, such as Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology University who have produced a machine to clean collected plastic bags.

The organization also provides training on solid waste management to schools as well as their peers. With access to financial and technical support, Mr. Maina hopes to explore the production of gas from their compost initiative, commercialize their briquette-making business, and market their compost products. Support for businesses such as these will play a big role in managing waste in informal settlements, and providing vulnerable people with alternative livelihoods.

Peter Murigi is an Urban WASH Specialist with Practical Action. The organization has worked with entrepreneurs and small companies like City Garbage Recyclers to build their capacity and give them access to appropriate technology that will help them build and grow their businesses. He believes that with the right technical support, informal sector workers can play an increasingly important role in managing solid waste within municipalities.

"There is a lack of adequate policy frameworks to integrate informal sector workers in the waste management value chain. It is important for organizations such as ours to work closely with informal sector workers, as well as policymakers, to advocate for the inclusion and recognition of small businesses and individuals in the waste management value chain," he explains.

According to Murigi, it is critical to create and implement legislation that will allow informal workers to be recognized and licensed in order to formalize engagement between them and the local administration. This will enable a more structured approach to waste management, allowing these workers to incorporate safety and technology into their work, and open up livelihood options to more people where everybody wins.

Photo: Ninara

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