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Kenya’s Growing Pain: Sustainable Solid Waste Management

Breath-taking view of Kilimanjaro from Amboseli National Park, Kenya.   ©Sergey Pesterev/Unsplash
Breath-taking view of Kilimanjaro from Amboseli National Park, Kenya. ©Sergey Pesterev/Unsplash

Known for its majestic scenery, Kenya is home to over 53 million people. As its economy continues to develop, twenty-seven percent of Kenya’s population, more than 14 million people and counting, are living in urban centers. In fact, the five major cities of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, Eldoret and Nakuru house almost two thirds of all urban dwellers.

However, with progress comes new challenges. The increasing human population, industrialization and other human activities have rapidly increased the production of solid wastes. Unfortunately, the increases in Kenya’s wealth and population have not matched the capacity to handle the associated wastes generated. Each major region has attempted to meet this challenge with varied success.

Kisumu’s Road to Recovery

Kisumu County in western Kenya is home to over 1.1 million people. It is one of the most densely populated parts of the country. The county’s capital city Kisumu, on the shores of Lake Victoria, has a population of more than half a million, but 60% of this population is found in informal settlements. Approximately 500 metric tons (551 tons) of wastes is generated within the county on a daily basis. A fifth of that is collected and transported, while the remaining four-fifths accumulate in the open.

There are several solid waste dump sites throughout the county with the Kachok dumpsite in Kisumu City being the largest. About 20% of the solid wastes generated in Kisumu County is burned in the open—in the markets, on the street sides, transfer points, at the dumpsite and in estates. Since there has been no formal system of waste separation, locals have engaged in the informal economy of waste recovery since the 1970s. Currently groups of youth have dominated waste recovery efforts at the Kachok dumpsite.

When public waste management services are lacking, local people, including children, try to earn money as waste pickers in local dumpsites.

In Kisumu County, the Department of Environment is responsible for provision of solid waste management services. In each of the five sub counties, there is an Environmental Officer reporting directly to the Chief Officer in Charge of the Environment. To guide the effective and efficient solid waste management in the County, the government developed the Kisumu County (Solid Waste Management) Act in 2015. The Kisumu Solid Waste Management Board established under the act, regulates and supervises all solid waste management issues. The act further provides for recycling of wastes and strengthening of public-private partnerships in environmental education and reduction of wastes.

There are partnerships between the county government, civil society groups, and non-governmental organizations to enhance solid waste management. The county government has provided financial support to these non-state actors to acquire more efficient technologies and fund other public initiatives. These include setting up waste bins that allow citizens to sort waste easily, and the organization of monthly public clean-ups.

Nakuru Organizes Governance

Nakuru County is the third most populous county with a population of over 2.1 million. In 2017 estimates, the World Bank reported that Nakuru County generates about 513 metric tons (565 tons) of wastes daily. A great majority (80%) of these wastes are biodegradable while 20% is non-biodegradable.

The Department of Environment, Natural Resources and Energy of the Nakuru County has the responsibility of waste management within the county. Broadly, the department is involved in policy and strategy development, setting household waste collection charges, cleaning of public spaces, issuing of permits for waste management activities and supervising waste collection. Due to limited financial and infrastructural resources, the county government concentrates on waste collection within the Central Business Districts of major towns.

However, the county government has contracted forty Community Based Organizations (CBOs) to supplement its effort in waste management. The county is divided into forty units managed by one contracted CBO. Additionally, there are licensed (by county government and the National Environment Management Authority) individual actors involved in waste management who do not necessarily report to the county government.

Mombasa Makes Headway

With over 1.1 million people, Mombasa City is the second largest city after Nairobi. Mombasa County generates about 1000 metric tons (1100 tons) of solid wastes daily. It is estimated that 50% of this waste is collected and disposed of while the other half remains uncollected. The county has three dumpsites: Chanda, Mwakirunge, and Kibarani. In the past, Kibarani was preferred over the others because of its proximity to the source of the wastes. However, Mombasa County has worked to decommission this dumpsite and turn it into a recreational park as part of one of Kenya’s larger regeneration projects.

Open burning of waste is an ongoing problem throughout Kenya. Local people rely on this method of waste disposal due to limited public waste collection and a lack of education on the harms it causes.

The Department of Environment headed by a Director, is in charge of solid waste management in the county. To ease collection, transportation and disposal of wastes, the county is zoned into four areas with a superintendent in charge of each zone. There are many initiatives geared towards solid waste management including:

  1. Guidelines and Capacity Building Framework for Waste Collection in High Density & Unserviced Areas in Mombasa County.

  2. Standard Operating Procedures for Recycling and Solid Waste Collection in High Density and Unserviced areas.

  3. Service Level Agreement for Recycling and Solid Waste Collection Services in Mombasa County.

Of all counties, Mombasa has the most waste collection equipment, including heavy equipment and a fleet of more than eighty trucks for solid waste management. Despite the huge number of waste collection trucks, almost fifty percent of the solid wastes in Mombasa remain uncollected. Delayed collection of wastes attracts informal recovery activities and open burning at those temporary collection points. The human resources to operate the trucks and equipment may not be adequate. There is no formalized waste separation. However, few CBOs and individual actors pick waste either at disposal points or at collection points.

Nairobi Develops A Plan

Public participation is needed for a waste management system to be successful.   ©Amani Nation/Unsplash
Public participation is needed for a waste management system to be successful. ©Amani Nation/Unsplash

Nairobi County is the capital city of Kenya. It has a population of over 4.4 million people and produces about 2,400 metric tons (2600 tons) of wastes daily, out of which 600 metric tons (660 tons) remains uncollected. Two legal documents guide waste management in the county: the Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan (ISWMP) revised in 2010 and Nairobi City County Solid Waste Management (SWM) Act of 2015. The Act recognizes that solid waste management is a shared responsibility among waste generators, owners and occupiers of premises, contracted service providers among others. The Act acknowledges the importance of public participation for effective solid waste management.

The Department of Environment of Nairobi County Government has a leading role in solid waste management in the county. The Chief Officer for Environment, Water, Energy and Natural Resources directs the daily operations in the department regarding waste management. In executing this function, the Chief Officer is supported by the seventeen sub-county environmental officers as well as enforcement officers within the department. The county government has disposal sites, heavy equipment, and a fleet of trucks for solid waste management.

Although Dandora dumpsite is the only designated disposal site for solid waste in the county, experts have long observed that the site is full and a source of pollution to the neighborhood. A number of CBOs, youth groups and private waste handling companies supplement the work of the county in solid waste management. The county government also works closely with the Kenya Alliance of Residents Association (KARA) in the development of waste regulations, NEMA in enhancing compliance and enforcement, and the United Nations Environment Programme on matters of carbon emissions as it relates to burning waste. These non-state actors are involved in the promotion of the "three Rs" (reduce, reuse, recycle) and environmental education.

Eldoret Struggles to Move Forward

The town of Eldoret is the fifth largest and fastest growing urban center with a total population of more than 470,000 people. Eldoret generates about 600 metric tons (660 tons) of wastes daily, with 55% being collected, 15% recovered, and 45% percent remaining uncollected.

Poor infrastructure, limited education, and a lack of economic incentives make improving the waste management system in Eldoret difficult. Open dumpsites need more sophisticated management to overcome years of environmental neglect.

The management of solid waste in Eldoret is the responsibility of the Department of Environment and Enforcement under the county government of Uasin Gishu. The county government uses the open disposal method for solid wastes. The current open dumpsite is an over-thirty-year-old, discarded quarry which was converted into a waste disposal site without much environmental considerations. Because the site is full, the waste transporters are forced to dispose of the wastes in undesignated sites. The road to the site is impassable during rainy seasons.

Ongoing Challenges of Solid Waste Management in Urban Centers

Eldoret exemplifies the key challenges to sustainable solid waste management in Kenya. Although there are incinerators in the cities and major towns, some were designed and constructed without eco-friendly considerations. The prevalence of uncontrolled burning of waste continues to release toxic emissions including persistent organic pollutants that build up in the environment. Fluctuating prices for different types of wastes also create uncertainty for stakeholders. Often the public does not have adequate environmental education and training on the three Rs. There is little to incentivize private collectors to participate in solid waste management.

Local governments lack the financial, technical, and organizational resources necessary to effectively collect and manage all the wastes generated within the county. An inadequate policy framework falls short on improving the involvement of non-state actors in waste management. Particularly, there is a lack of designated sites for all relevant stakeholders and private entities. The relaxed implementation and monitoring of solid waste laws and regulations make the challenges even more difficult to overcome.


*Dr. Moses Kathuri Njeru is a Ph.D. holder in Environmental Sciences, Masters of Arts in Environmental Planning and Management and B.Sc. in Environmental Science. Dr. Njeru is a Lecturer of Environmental Sciences with over ten years teaching and research experience at Chuka University, Kenya. His interests are in waste management, gender and environment, and sustainable management of agroecosystems.


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