Kenya: Much Has to Be Done

The country takes first reliable steps to change its waste management.

In 2010, a team of researchers published a paper on the possibilities of solid waste management in Kenya’s capital Nairobi. The description of the situation at the time included that only half of the estimated 3,000 tons of waste generated every day were collected, criticized missing means of safe disposal in sanitary landfills or state-of-the-art incinerators, deplored that only 400 to 600 tons reach the Dandora dumpsite every day, and showed that the over 2,000 people recovering 250 to 300 tons of recyclable or reusable material are only responsible for eight to ten percent of the daily waste stream. Four years later, a visitor described the solid waste management situation in Kenya’s capital as follows: “There is something terribly wrong in Nairobi City: As you drive along the road you will see heaps of garbage.“

Figures mostly estimated

The amount of waste in Nairobi and Mombasa can at best be estimated, the amount in the country stays unknown, and current figures must be searched with a magnifying glass. A scientific investigation of Nairobi’s solid waste management situation in 2010 reported 2,122 tons of domestic waste and 999 tons of non-domestic waste produced per day, containing 51 percent of organics, 18 percent of paper, 16 percent of plastic, and two percent of metals and glass each. The reuse and recycling levels ranged at about one percent for organics, eight percent for paper waste, five percent of plastic waste, 100 percent of reusable metal scrap and an unknown part of glass recycled. In all 27 percent of total generated waste was properly disposed of at designated Dandora landfill, while 69 percent were improperly disposed of or handled. And even the latest solid waste management report published by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources can only estimate the total amount of domestic solid waste generated to 4,950 tons per day in 2011 and 5,600 tons per day in 2015.

For 2020, the aforementioned researcher’s paper estimated 2,000 tons per day of organic fraction rotting, scavenged or illegal treated and 600 tons of officially dumped organics. Recyclables in 2020 were valued at 1,400 tons burnt or illegally treated, about 200 tons officially dumped and 150 tons recovered. Remaining residual waste is officially dumped, burnt or illegally treated. An “Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan” – a collaboration of Kenyan government with the United Nations Environment Program – was designed to raise the collection rate to 64.6 percent by 2020 and to 100 percent by 2030, while the waste reduction rate should increase to 7.5 percent by 2020 and to ten percent by 2030.

Not only budgetary deficiencies

However, these figures will become reality in the future: In 2012, the need for developing solid waste management was urgent. The national legislation appeared comprehensive, but the practices and efforts at the local level were not. According to the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, the by-laws exhibited many limitations, their enforcement was either lacking or weak, the organizational capacities emerged as inadequate, and the service structures suffered from chronically underfunding, with too few vehicles, poor equipment, and inadequate maintenance. And there were “hardly any containment systems for waste before transportation and the disposal sites of these towns are unsecured, unmanned and in some cases non-existent“. UN-Habitat coordinator Andre Dzikus was quoted with the words: “Due to budgetary deficiencies, town authorities find it difficult to address solid waste management in a sustainable manner. In addition, insufficient public awareness and enforcement of legislation is also a hindrance.” Nevertheless, the expenses are rising since 2014, as the budget allocation for solid waste management in growing Nairobi increased from 103 million to 1.5 billion Kenyan Shillings (872,000 respectively 1.2 million Euro) in 2017.

A pilot project titled “Clean, healthy, wealthy Nairobi“ was launched in October 2014, designed to change the current point collection system of several companies to one successful collection system organized by a single franchise. In April 2015, Nairobi’s waste management companies were linked against a corresponding bill, and members of the Waste and Environment Management Association of Kenya began lobbying for a stop. They argued that the bill would push them out of business and would not allow competition. Governor Evans Kidero countered: “Contracting prequalified companies and private waste collectors has proved ineffective since some of these firms don’t dispose garbage at Dandora dump site as required.” The bill was adopted, one of 37 competing companies won the contract, and more than 2,000 people became unemployed.

Private sector involvement

That affair brought into consciousness that the failing institutional accountability of the previous collection system had led to a significant amount of private sector involvement, to a large extent handled by the informal sector. It was reported that – as early as the turn of the century – private businesses or individuals collected paper, cans, glass and plastic bottles for recycling in major cities like Nairobi and Mombasa, though not in smaller towns. The same situation as in 2013: A large percentage of solid waste was managed by the private sector and non-governmental organizations due to public-private partnerships. EcoPost for example, founded by eco-preneur Lorna Rutto, is a social enterprise created to find alternative plastic waste management solutions to Kenya.

The company collects plastic waste and manufactures commercially viable, highly durable, and environmentally friendly fencing posts, that are used widely across Kenya. The project created over 300 jobs and saved the environment from over one million kilograms of plastic waste.

Foreign interests

Several recyclable materials even captivated the interest of foreign companies. In 2013, computer producer Dell created an e-waste recycling program together with the E-Waste Solutions Alliance for Africa. The regional e-waste handling facility – first-of-its-kind – was named East Africa Compliant Recycling. Its 40 collection points were run by independent local entrepreneurs that buy e-waste from collectors. The idea was to create a controlled processing infrastructure offering an alternative to the unregulated recycling operations across the region. In 2014, Hewlett-Packard extended its work in Kenya – after a local e-waste management project since 2010 – and wanted to develop a blueprint for a modern recycling facility. The HP experts teamed up with – among others – the East African Compliant Recycling and the German Deutsche Investitions- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft and created a system for separating and dismantling e-waste including domestic devices. According to The Guardian, the result was East Africa‘s first large-scale recycling facility in Nairobi and Kenya‘s first-ever registered collection network for e-waste.
There is much interest in the recycling of plastic packaging waste in Kenya too. The estimated amount of plastic packaging put on the market makes up approximately 270,000 tons per year. The recycled volume – based on questionnaire responses of recyclers – adds up to around 38,000 tons per year, corresponding to an overall recycling rate for plastic packaging waste by 15 percent. A recently published study enumerates 51 recyclers of plastic packaging waste in Kenya, mostly based in Nairobi.

Cooperations with Japan and Denmark

Not just recently, the Kenyan government cooperates with other nations. Since several years, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has supported improvements of environmental management capacity in Nakuru, started supporting on capacity development of solid waste management in Nairobi, and will continue supporting its implementation. 1,251 billion Kenyan Shilling (10.26 billion Euro) were invested in the PPP-Project of Medical Waste and Hazardous Waste Appropriate Processing Plant in Nairobi, and as mentioned above, the agency initiated “Clean, healthy, wealthy Nairobi“. In late 2016, the Danish Environmental Protection Agency held several meetings in Kenya for stakeholders at national and regional levels as well as private sector companies and organizations. The Danish Minister for Environment and Food, Esben Lunde Larsen, signed a cooperation agreement for the environment area with Kenya to ensure cleaner production, better waste separation and reduced water consumption by Danish products. And in August 2017, Kenya joined a number of other African countries that regulate the use of plastic bags through legislation aimed at waste prevention.

Investment capital needed

Much has to be done, according to the latest report of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources: Waste sorting, a market for organic waste and a market for certain inorganic waste fractions like styrofoam and low-grade plastics are still lacking. Investment capital has to be acquired: The total investment costs – to be met by international grants and investment loans, national grants and investment loans – for 15 recycling points and 16 composting plants and the necessary technical infrastructure and trucks are estimated at approximately 35 million US-Dollar (30 million Euro). The expected costs for capacity development are approximately 3.8 million US-Dollar (3.2 million Euro), and the costs for project management are estimated at two million US-Dollar (1.7 million Euro) for the next 15 years. Last but not least incentives for private sector players wishing to engage have to be created; a transparent guiding framework for private sector participation and thus providing predictability for its players will be provided.

The business development agency Germany Trade and Invest but warned in 2016: “Private investors may help to find appropriate solutions, but don’t come into effect because of the self-interest of influential groups. Well-meant development aid projects of the international donor community are accepted with pleasure but don’t lead to a change in thinking. They, on the contrary, would help to cover mismanagement and defer necessary rethinking, critics give account.“ Maybe this has changed, and Kenya is on its way to change its industrial production into a waste-reduced model.

Photo: pixabay

GR 3/2018