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Waste management lessons for Kenya from the Swedish model

By Caroline Kerichu | July 9th 2018

The plastic bags ban in Kenya should be applauded; plastic had become a big menace. It has helped in maintaining a clean and conducive environment.

While travelling across the country, one cannot fail to notice the difference since the ban – the streets are cleaner and landscape more attractive

When shoppers visit supermarkets and other retail shops, they have to carry their own bio-degradable carrier bags or buy one. This has resulted in the public being vigilant in ensuring they either have a carrier bag or are ready to incur an extra cost.

However, the problem of sustainable waste management in Kenya still stands. Most of our solid waste goes to landfills and dumping sites that are patronised by scavenging street families. The waste generated in the country should be put to better use than simply being dumped. It can be turned into biogas energy, electricity, other new products or raw materials for other processes.

A while ago, a group of 20 individuals from Kenya, Ethiopia, and Rwanda, I was among them, visited Sweden for an educational training programme on climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Among other issues covered, we had the opportunity to learn about Sweden’s waste management system and culture.

The waste

Most of the Swedes sort their wastes at the point of generation (homes and offices), depositing each type of garbage in separate containers that are then collected by the local municipality.

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The waste management and recycling in Sweden is very advanced, such that the country has a problem finding enough garbage, compelling it to import from other countries to keep the recycling plants running.

In Linkoping, Sweden, organic waste from canteen and households is converted into biogas fuel used by majority of public transport buses.

Out of their household waste, almost all of it is recycled; less than 1 percent goes to landfills, and this has been the trend since 2011. Sweden has achieved this system because the culture of being conscious of the environment is instilled into the society.

How can Kenya adopt such a waste management system? As the Kenyan population continues to increase and more people moving to the urban areas, waste generation will definitely increase. The national and county governments need to put up measures to ensure sustainable management of the waste. This could include several things.

First, putting waste management policies in place and strengthening the enforcement of proper waste disposal, including developing action plans for waste prevention, introducing levy on waste collection. For instance, countries such as Rwanda have been at the forefront in enforcing the ban on single-use plastics.

Recycling plants

Second, ensure that strategic places in towns, shopping centres, and bus stages among others are fitted with public waste bins of different colours, clearly marked for recyclable and non-recyclable waste. This will assist in easing the collection, recycling and managing the waste.


Third, invest in recycling plants for biogas and electricity generation from biodegradable waste such as organic waste from households, supermarkets, slaughterhouses and food industries. This will be significant especially in the protection of our forests which are the main source of energy for most households in Kenya, with 80 per cent of rural households depending on wood fuel.

Fourth, create more awareness and sensitise society on proper waste management through the principle of reduce, reuse, recycle. There is need to change the waste management culture and people’s mindsets to take the responsibility to manage waste and ensure it is disposed of properly.

If the Government can put up measures to ensure proper waste management, from sorted garbage collection at the household level to recycling plants to energy generation from waste, then Kenya will have achieved a major milestone towards the reduction of environmental degradation.

Even as the world is moving towards beating plastic pollution, Kenya should strive to be a top performer and achiever in ensuring a clean and conducive environment for all citizens.

Ms Kerichu is Executive Officer, Forestry Society of Kenya 

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