Proper investments key to sustainable waste management

A woman scavenges for recyclable materials at Dandora dumpsite on the outskirts of Nairobi. [Reuters]

Solid waste disposal and management is slowly becoming a developing nation’s problem and adaptive leadership seems a good way out of it. Having lived and worked in Nairobi for the bigger part of my adult life, can’t help but notice the little adamance shown by the city management officials in implementing a sound waste management system especially in low- and middle-income settlement areas.

Even the few designated dumpsites that exist in other part of the town, they lack appropriate technologies and disposal facilities to totally deal with all kind of waste. In a single day, Nairobi generates 2200 tons of solid waste. Something that seems to have overwhelmed the people tasked to deal with solid waste and has in turn soared some key streets and residential areas with pungent smell of overflowing garbage.

Products such as diapers and sanitary pads have in the recent past added to the amount of solid waste generated in different cities and towns across the country. This is a result of influx and increased consumption of the products in the country. However, disposing the used ones requires more specialized care since the two are made from materials that take a longer time to decompose.

The most preferred method of disposal has been to throw the used diaper or sanitary pad in a pit latrine or a garbage bag. Most places, especially the urban areas, no longer have pit latrines and if they exist, they aren’t deep enough hence the disposed of diapers and sanitary pads still end up in the open. On the other hand, if the same is disposed of in garbage bags and later in openly designated dumpsites, it still ends up in the open after being scattered away by stray city dogs.

The equation on how to well dispose of diapers and sanitary pads has got both the government and the private sector “headbanging”. On one side, is the government and on the other, is the private sector. The government alludes that already it has done enough as far as solid management is concerned.

According to NEMA, county governments have ensured adequate systems to deal with waste with appropriate technologies and facilities.

Further, NEMA suggests that it has ensured that most urban centers across the country have designated areas of waste disposal and have undertaken basic actions to managing the sites including fencing, manning and weighing of the waste. Currently, the government is on the verge of drafting a bill – Waste Management Bill 2019 that seeks to hold the manufacturer liable for the waste disposal.

But, let’s take a pause and think things through. Even before this bill becomes a law, something already doesn’t feel right.

A recent study by NEMA on waste management in Kenya showed that most towns and cities in Kenya have inefficient waste collection and disposal systems. For instance, the study indicated that about 30-40 per cent of the waste generated in Nairobi is not collected and only less than 50% of the population is served. In Nakuru, it is estimated that 45 per cent of the waste generated is collected and disposed at Giotto Dumpsite, 18 per cent is recovered and the rest accumulates in the environment.

 A clear evidence of a failed waste management system. Sincerely speaking, laws and regulations alone cannot work in dealing with waste disposal and management. It requires all the players to play but at the same time to play fairly. The best way to dispose of solid wastes that are not recyclable is through incineration. However, this method has its pros and cons.

Other than being fast and effective, this method is pretty expensive. The price of incinerating 1 kg of waste is between Sh20 to Sh30 as compared to the price of dumping which is just Sh0.5 per kilogram. It is even insane thinking of acquiring an incinerator. The cost of purchasing a 200kg per hour incinerator is as high as 32 million shillings.

As the government rushes to eradicate the menace created by non-recyclable solid waste, I feel, it needs to rethink the entire system and not just trying to clean trash out of our streets. My suggestion is, they need to spearhead adaptive leadership what fully embraces ownership and continuous learning as part and parcel of achieving a long-term solution to a behavior change.

The first thing is, therefore, need to think is how well do we ensure the waste reaches the designated dumpsites across the cities.

In this regard, it needs to make this about the people and make them see and understand that it is rewarding to keep the environment around them clean.

Secondly, it needs to think of how to make waste disposal and management profitable to the surrounding community. In this regard, there is a need for the government to encourage the general public and local SMEs to acquire solid waste incinerators through appropriate incentives.

Further, the government should think of creating an agency that solely deals with waste disposal and management. In this regard, the agency would buy solid waste from the waste pickers, recover what is recyclable and offer the rest to private incinerators at a fee. 

The writer is the Communications Lead at Proctor and Gamble East Africa

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