Nairobi's apartment crisis: Rise of 'self-contained' dumpsites

An aerial view of Ruaka town, Kiambu County. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

Proper solid waste management remains a significant global problem. The heterogeneous nature of waste, including plastics, food scraps, paper, and glass, complicates the handling process.

In many cities, increasing waste quantities strain municipal authorities’ capacity to keep up. Nairobi, “the Green City in the Sun,” is not spared. This metropolis of 5.5 million residents generates between 2,000 and 2,500 tons of waste daily, with a large portion going uncollected.

This gap in collection services has led to the alarming rise of “self-contained” dumpsites within residential apartments, posing serious health and environmental risks. These recently established dumping areas are located in staircases or basements of apartment buildings.

The waste is often collected inconsistently by ‘mikokoteni guys ‘on a weekly basis, only after subjecting residents to foul odours. The waste rarely reaches designated recycling facilities or landfills and is often dumped in nearby rivers, further polluting the environment.

Root Causes: Lack of Infrastructure and Cost-Cutting Measures

Firstly, some Nairobi neighbourhoods lack designated waste collection points, leaving residents with no options for sustainable waste management. They resort to leaving their household waste at the basements.

Secondly, even when apartments have waste collection bins, they’re often undersized for the number of residents. Bins typically overflow within two days of collection, leaving waste to pile up for several more days before the next pickup.

Children, out of curiosity and unaware of the dangers, can be seen picking through these unsanitary piles.

Low collection coverage, limited waste transportation options, and a lack of proper recycling and disposal facilities plague waste management in many developing cities. Unfortunately, waste reduction, the most effective strategy, remains an elusive goal in most countries.

While people are willing to pay for water and other services that are essential to their survival, solid waste removal does not always fall into this category.

The Nairobi County Government should continue establishing waste collection points across residential areas to streamline waste collection. A collaboration between government, citizens and other stakeholders in the sector will be paramount to achieve significant results in waste management.