For a long time, it bothered Daniel Paffenholz that households, including his own, were forced to burn their waste for lack of better solutions. As an environmental conservationist, the thought of the damage he was doing by releasing harmful gases into the air did not sit well with him.
Yet, when he looked around, the waste management solutions deployed, such as the “collect to dispose” that had created the headache that is the Dandora dumpsite, did not put him at ease. He resolved to find a better solution.
Today, TakaTaka Solutions, the company he founded in 2011, provides comprehensive services, going beyond disposing and composting organic waste to sorting and recycling plastic.
While other firms in the sector manage a 10 percent recovery from dumpsites, Daniel says TakaTaka Solutions boasts a 90 percent recovery.
With a workforce of more than 700, the company serves numerous clients in Nairobi, handling over 90 tonnes of waste daily. It operates sorting sites, composting plants, recycling facilities, incinerators, and buy-back centres, significantly boosting Kenya’s recycling sector.
Challenges and opportunities
Nairobi generates 4,000 tonnes of waste daily, with collection and recycling efficiency remaining a primary concern. The Dandora dumpsite, the county’s main dumpsite, receives less than 50 percent of the total waste, suggesting disposal elsewhere, likely in smaller dumpsites or some waste is not collected from the source.
Daniel highlights two significant waste management obstacles: cheap dumping and inadequate material recovery facilities.
Dumping in the Dandora site, he says, costs Sh100 per tonne, which hinders formal waste management competitiveness.
“The US landfill gate fee is $53 per tonne, translating to approximately Sh8,000. This means it’s so easy and too cheap to dump in Kenya,” he says.
This means funding is barely available to build and operate proper waste management facilities.
Daniel notes that unlike in other countries where waste management companies receive fees from cities for their services, in Kenya, the low cost of dumping forces companies to derive revenue almost exclusively from the intrinsic value of waste, which is very low.
“Investing in waste solutions in Kenya requires being a lot more frugal and innovative than you would be elsewhere because you cannot rely on that nice cushion of a fee you would be paid to manage waste. The little value you’re going to have, you have to find it in the waste,” he explains.
The road ahead
He envisions TakaTaka Solutions managing around 1,200 tonnes of waste daily in the next five years. Annually, the target is to process approximately 50,000 metric tonnes, which he says will be a significant step towards a more sustainable and circular waste management system.
TakaTaka Solutions plans to build multiple material recovery facilities, establish additional recycling plants, and collaborate with other firms to achieve this vision. The company aims to scale its operations and contribute to a more environmentally friendly waste management paradigm in Kenya by creating a network that diverts waste from dumpsites to recovery facilities.
They recently started flexible recycling, targeting materials like soft plastics, which constitute over half of Kenya’s plastic waste.
“The recycling rate for items like PET bottles and hard plastics is notably higher in Kenya, ranging from 60 percent to 70 percent, compared to a mere 1 percent for flexible plastics. If you can make money from that huge waste stream, you can now start extracting some value of something that previously didn’t have a value,” Daniel explains.
Advice for the aspiring
Daniel emphasises the importance of a long-term perspective to those considering venturing into waste management, urging entrepreneurs to be patient and deeply understand the specific waste streams they aim to tackle. “You need to have a lot of patience because many factors present in other markets, like gate fees and extended producer responsibility fees, do not or barely exist in Kenya,” he advises.
Daniel also stresses on the importance of selecting the right equipment: “Choosing the right equipment makes a substantial difference in what can be processed and the value that can be obtained from the waste. Operating with subpar equipment makes the unit economics and overall operations much more challenging.”
Call for responsibility
As a parting shot, Daniel called on businesses and individuals to consider their role in creating a better environment. He encouraged product designers to prioritise recyclability, explore the use of recycled content, and actively engage in sustainable waste management practices.
He said, “Consider more recyclable designs when designing or making products. Often, product design is driven by marketing considerations or product shelf life, but it’s important to also think about how the packaging can be easily recycled.”
Daniel wishes for better implementation of the Sustainable Waste Management Bill, which calls for, among other things, sorting garbage for recycling at material recovery centres instead of taking it to dumpsites. If properly implemented and enforced, the bill passed in the Senate in 2022 provides an opportunity to implement a more efficient waste management system.