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Day out with the trash trackers of Mukuru slums

 Bags made from recycled waste, [Courtesy]

As Nairobi works on eradicating slums, residents of Mukuru Fuata Nyayo are working on different ways of recycling waste products in their area. 

The state of Ngong River, which flows through the populated settlement, is devastating to see. Plastic bottles and bags, textiles and other litter choke this river. It is hard to stand the stench. 

In Nairobi, an estimated 2,400 tonnes of solid waste are generated every day, 20 per cent of which is in plastic form. Poor waste management, coupled with rising urban pressure, has heightened the risks of environmental degradation in the city of 4.4 million people. 

Donned in protective gear, Valentine Onyango takes us through a typical day as a volunteer in environmental waste management. The 33-year-old explains how it feels to be born and raised in the slums and the changes that he would want to make in his environment. He desires to see a waste-free slum. 

“Navigating life in the slums, especially being a boy child, is one of the toughest hurdles. I aim to help the young boys and men in these slums avoid crime-related activities and embrace activities that will improve our environment and help us make money legitimately,” Valentine explains. 

Valentine, who is a leader of one of the youth groups in Mukuru Fuata Nyayo, has a running initiative where he recycles waste products. 

“We have regular clean-ups in Mukuru Fuata Nyayo, especially around Ngong River which cuts across our neighbourhood. During the clean-up, we set aside specific waste products for the items that we create,” he explains. 

Leah Nawire, one of the youths in this circle, explains how they make planters from this waste. 

“We try to collect some plastic straps - the kind that ties mitumba bales - in our vicinity. But since there are not many, we wait for companies to dispose of them. We also go all the way to Gikomba to collect them since they are in abundance. We additionally collect wires since they are needed for this,” Leah narrates. 

The group also recycles textiles to make seat cushions. For this project, the group involves young boys who are out of school or those available on weekends. They train them, imparting carpentry and textile recycling skills. Whereas the training is free, the trainees are paid once the end product is sold.

“We then put word across our community that we purchase old and worn-out seats for approximately Sh400. With the seats and the materials collected, we can make better seats,” says Samuel Kange’the, the lead trainer. 

Evans Odhiambo, a recent electrical engineering graduate, speaks about his journey with the group.

“I have joy in our cleanup because it takes my mind away from engaging in vices. I also get to interact with other people and learn from them.” 

Beverly Jalang’o, is the founder of Pro Saba, a community where creatives can meet and learn about sustainability. She is also the national director for Miss Earth Kenya. She weighs in on the state of textile waste in Kenya. 

“Manufacturers generate an estimated 400,000 tonnes of textile waste yearly which often ends up in toxic dumps that pollute the soil and put waste-pickers at risk. Having a group of young people volunteer to clear the textile waste is a really good initiative.” 

They also make toys for children. “We make toys from plastic bottles, wood waste and nails. We can provide our community with affordable toys for their children while keeping the environment clean.” 

This group has another initiative, birthed from the numerous cleanup activities; once they clean a place, they plant a tree. 

“We are aiming to create more that will help hold seedlings instead of plastic bags. Unfortunately, because of dumping, most of our seedlings are destroyed. We have tried distributing the trees to some of our elder members in the slum who have farms in their rural areas so they can go and plant them there,” Valentine explains. 

Patrick Mabwa, a community health promoter, and Mzee Mbooni, a village elder, affirm that indeed they are beneficiaries of the tree-planting initiative. They also commend the efforts of this group in trying to clean their environment, despite it being a slum. 

We engaged Nairobi City County Chief Officer in charge of Environment, Mr Hibrahim Otieno, seeking to understand why a slum as huge as Mukuru Fuata Nyayo would lack a designated garbage dumping site. 

“The biggest challenge we face as a county is illegal dumping. We need to get to a point where people are responsible for their waste by dumping the waste they generate in waste collection designated areas set up by the City County,” said Mr Otieno. 

“Some areas lack designated dump sites since they are extremely congested. Hence the county has allocated specific garbage collection days,” Mr Otieno added. “We applaud the community-based organisation and all the others. They are part of the county. We give them recognition letters to enable them to do their work. We support them whenever they want to carry out any clean-up exercise and we also link them with waste recyclers. We also provide red soil and tree seedlings for the youth willing to undertake tree-planting initiatives,” says Mr Otieno. 

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