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How Nairobi can emulate Addis Ababa in waste management

By Isaac Okoth | September 27th 2018

Nairobi can boast of much in Africa but not scenic value. The city is chocked with solid waste and the attempts by the County government to address the challenge has proven to be less fruitful. This is because the government and relevant partners have failed to take a holistic approach to solid waste management.

The population of Nairobi County is roughly similar to that of Addis Ababa. However, the former releases about 2,475 tons of solid waste each day while the latter produce about 1,680 tons. Therefore, the question is why would Nairobi County produce more waste than Addis Ababa if the population is relatively similar? The Nairobi County government need to recheck its implementation of the Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle (3Rs) principle.

Address production

The best way to manage solid waste in a community is to minimize its production. The main problem in Nairobi has been the failure to ensure reduction of the amount of solid waste produced per day. A concept that Addis Ababa has mastered thus making solid waste management to be less stressful. The ban of plastic bags in 2017 was considered a single step towards the reduction of waste produced in the country. However, the sustainability of the action has been questioned by several community developers and environmentalists. For instance, even though the flat and carrier bags were banned, they have managed to get their way to the community courtesy of Kenya’s porous borders and a ready market for the same. A number of vegetable vendors still use the banned plastic bags to package their products to their beloved customers in the middle and low-income areas in Kenya. The unsustainability of the ban is not because of the law but implementation process. The government decided to use a top-down approach instead of the alternative bottom-up that would see the locals owning the idea hence eliminating the market for plastic bags in the country. Consequently, the locals still consider themselves the victims in the ban of plastics thus would take any opportunity presented to defy the call to stop the usage of plastic bags.


Re-use is a better alternative to managing solid waste in Nairobi, Kenya. This is the art of using and reusing items until they can’t be used anymore. Relevant waste management stakeholders should put measures that encourage locals to reuse items until the point that they cannot be used. The art of giving should also be embedded among the locals so that they can share or borrow items that they under-utilize to avoid wastage. For instance, charitable organizations and thrift stores should be used as centers that connect the owners of the unwanted items and the potential beneficiaries to minimize waste being offloaded in the landfills.



Recycling is a good alternative to managing solid waste and entails converting old items to something new. Nairobi needs a practice of sorting waste at the household level and this can be encouraged by introducing recycling points in the estates. Currently, the recyclables are sorted at the central disposal spots mainly by the street urchins thus characterized with dispersing the already collected wastes and developing additional landfills of recyclable wastes beside the main ones which negatively affect the scenic value of the estates. Therefore, the introduction of recycling centers at the estates will encourage sorting of wastes at the household level and develop employment opportunities for the youths. Furthermore, the public can be encouraged to pre-cycle. This is a concept that entails buying beverages or food in containers that are accepted in the area’s recycling program. In presence of recycling centers that pay on delivery at street level, locals will be forced to sort and take their wastes to the centers for financial gain. Consequently, wastes reduced in the landfills will be minimized and natural resources such as trees and clean atmosphere conserved.

Solid waste management can simply be managed through a bottom-up approach. The government, not-for-profit, and private institutions should initiate programs that entail capacity building and training locals on the 3Rs as a tool for solid waste management. Empowering locals is not only an efficient means of waste management but also the most effective and sustainable. For instance, empowered locals will not see a ban on plastic bags as a threat to their livelihood but an opportunity to make their lives better. They will have the guts to refuse packaging bags given in stores, be it bio-degradable or not, thus helping the government save in reinforcing similar laws in the future. Relevant stakeholders should encourage Kenyans to address the challenge of solid waste management through their imaginations instead of trash cans.

Author: Isaac Okoth (C.E.O & Founder at Institute for Green Development)

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