The first time that Tanzanian-born Zameer Noorali, executive director of Taka Kenya, thought about the waste management industry was as a member of the humanitarian coordination team of the US Navy.
The American Navy has a strict policy of collecting the waste they produce at each location and not burning it on site.
When he returned to Kenya and drove around the streets of Nairobi, he couldn’t help but reflect on his experiences in the US Navy, and how urgently Kenya needed an integrated waste management solution.
At the end of last year, the 31-year-old entrepreneur started a company called Taka Kenya with an investment of $500,000 (Sh43 million).
Nairobi produces 2,000 tonnes of trash a day. That is the equivalent of four mountain high football fields or half of Nyayo Stadium. This garbage is currently redirected from residences and businesses across the city to the Dandora landfill, and other illegal dump sites.
Apart from the negative social impact of sites like Dandora and burgeoning illegal dumping sites in Embakasi, Mr Noorali says that Kenyan society needs to start seeing garbage as a resource that can generate money.
“It’s like leaving a Sh100 or a Sh1,000 note on the road,” he says. “We need to reuse our resources rather than throwing them away.”
Kenya has about 70 private garbage collection companies, which operate in the void left by the country’s city and municipal councils.
However, these companies only fulfil the first step in waste management since they collect garbage and dispose of it at another location.
Taka Kenya on the other hand offers an integrated waste management solution since it collects solid waste, sorts it into various groups (paper, plastic, glass, metal, food) and sells the product forward to a recycler such that eventually zero per cent of the country’s waste will arrive at a landfill or dumpsite.
To this end, Taka Kenya has entered into agreements with various recyclers across the city.
“Eighty per cent of the waste we collect from residences is recyclable. From business buildings or complexes, almost 100 per cent or 99 per cent of the waste is recyclable,” says Mr Noorali.
Since Taka Kenya sells the solid waste onward, the company is able to enter into a cost sharing scheme with its clients such that the costs of collecting the garbage are offset by the revenue that Taka Kenya makes in selling the waste to recyclers.
Therefore, the discounted monthly cost of residential garbage collection ranges between Sh150 to Sh200 including the provision of dumpsters and biodegradable plastic bags.
Taka Kenya began operating in February this year. By the end of April, it plans to have five trucks and by the end of the year, 12. Each truck caters for between 12 to 20 tonnes of waste, and so the company will be able to handle approximately five per cent of the capital city’s waste.
Initially, it will serve the greater Nairobi area but hopes to expand into the coastal city of Mombasa which also experiences challenges in managing its waste.
With less than a month under its belt, however, Taka Kenya has secured large clients in the city’s hospitality sector such as the Serena Group, shopping complexes including Diamond Plaza and Nakumatt, manufacturing companies like London Distillers, and residential clients from Kilimani, Kileleshwa, Westlands and Parklands. It will shortly sign contracts with some of the city’s hospitals since it is also equipped to handle medical waste.
Taka Kenya is jointly owned by Mr Noorali, a fifth generation East African, two local real estate investors, and a US based company which offers technical support.
Its offices are based on Mpaka Road in Nairobi’s Westlands, and it has a warehouse on Addis Ababa road, and a storage area in Karen for dumpsters, bins and biodegradable bags.
Because the waste collection system that Taka Kenya employs is semi automated, the company is able to provide a quarterly breakdown of the waste that each client produces. This increased consciousness of waste production practices has secured it a partnership with a national retail outlet.
Together, the two companies will set up recycling bins at national locations to encourage customers to recycle their solid waste as they shop for consumer goods. Mr Noorali is confident it is a trend that will pick up among Kenya’s middle class sector, simply because it encourages a more responsible approach to consumption and disposal.
“Why do we manage homes, businesses, even our own lives, but not our waste?” he asks. Taka Kenya, Mr Noorali is confident, will help to usher in the next step in Kenya’s social and economic development.