Population pressure adds to stink of Kenya’s garbage problem

A boy walks across a sea of garbage in Nairobi’s Kawangware slums on January 12, 2018. PHOTO | ANTHONY OMUYA | NMG
A boy walks across a sea of garbage in Nairobi’s Kawangware slums on January 12, 2018. PHOTO | ANTHONY OMUYA | NMG 

A spot-check across all major towns in Kenya reveals a common waste management problem.

Mounds of uncollected garbage are the order of the day, leaving residents in urban centres at risk of disease outbreaks.

Attempts by various county governments and the Environment ministry to clear the mess has been curtailed especially due to rising human population and slums sprouting faster than authorities can manage their trash.

And as the population balloons so does garbage.

Kenya has one of the fastest growing population in Africa, with projections indicating that by 2050 the number of people is likely to hit 97 million.


A 2014 United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) report projected that there would be 47 million people in Kenya by 2015 meaning that as of today, Kenya has almost 50 million people. By 2030, the population will be 66 million people, according to the report.

World Bank projects that the population in Kenya is growing by 3,000 people per day, and one million per year.

According to studies, increased population attracts urbanisation, development and industrialisation.

Proper management

But these play the greatest role in environmental pollution and degradation especially because of waste generation and lack of proper management (solid, liquid and gaseous waste), say experts.

Cases in point are cities like Nairobi and Mombasa. In 2017, Nairobi was home to an estimated 4.23 million people and estimates indicate that population in the city will double in the next 15 years.

“With the urban population in Kenya estimated to be growing at a rate higher than that of the country’s general population growth rate, waste generation shall be a major challenge,” said Dr Blessing Mberu, a researcher at the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC), Nairobi, in a working paper, Urban Africa Risk Knowledge.

Nairobi alone generates an estimated 3,000 tonnes of solid waste per day according to APHRC. However, only half of it is collected.

This perhaps explains why there is litter dotting every inch of the city.

The same applies to Mombasa, which according to the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) generates 2,200 tonnes of solid waste everyday with only 65 per cent collected.

Though waste management is a devolved function spearheaded by county governments, waste is generated by all citizens, and so everyone should be responsible in waste management, said Mr Samuel Matonda, the Responsible Care Coordinator at Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM).

According to him, urbanisation is good but with it comes a lot of challenges.

“We must get the reality that comes with industrialisation. We cannot control pollution through punitive measures because that can only lead to killing of the industries,” he said.

But the level of environmental pollution is directly proportional to population and industrial growth.

Mr Matonda understands too well the role of industries in waste generation.

According to him, while it is every stakeholders responsibility to ensure that the environment is clean, manufacturers should be at the forefront in waste management, or learn through the hard way.

“The best thing is to discuss which innovation best safeguards the environment. We need to think ahead and solve problems before they occur. We need to evaluate and know what other economies have done,” he said during an interview with the Business Daily.

Plastic ban

Kenya became the 11th country globally to ban importation, manufacture and use of flat plastic bags towards the end of last year but plastics in general are still an eyesore.

While the move was criticised, especially by manufacturers who feared to be out of business, it was in the right direction in environmental conservation, said Mr Matonda.

“Waste is waste when it has no value, waste can be used to create wealth. Our role as manufacturers is to ensure that whatever is given out is used for something else,” he said.

According to him, if a bottle of water or juice is thrown after draining its contents, it becomes waste. But if it is used for any other purpose like keeping water, it becomes a useful by-product.

“If it can be collected and traded for something else, it becomes useful waste that can be used to generate income,” he added.

As it is, ineffectiveness by county governments to collect and dispose waste has resulted to private garbage collectors and youth groups who collect rubbish at a fee.

Unfortunately not all waste gets to the dump sites or recyclers; some end up on city streets and along roads in major urban centres and estates.

The situation is made worse by those who cannot afford the fee because they dump waste anywhere.

“Waste collection and management is not done right and that is why we are doing studies on how to handle it. Good waste when mixed with bad waste ends up contaminated and everything becomes a total waste despite the fact that it is wealth if well managed, said Mr Matonda.

Discussions are under way amongst stakeholders and the government on proper waste management in bid to create a cleaner environment and income, he said.

KAM has taken the lead because manufacturers play a great role in waste generation while the government has the responsibility of ensuring that the environment is clean, said the expert on environmental management.

“The manufacturing sector plays a big role in the generation of industrial, solid and chemical waste and that is why private sector has a role to play in waste management and environmental conservation,” he said.

As a result, KAM has launched several programmes to complement county government’s efforts to address the garbage mess in the country.

“There is need to solve issues beforehand, we do not need to ban everything,” he said, in reference to the recent ban on plastic paper bags and PET (plastic) bottles, which have become an eyesore in the country.

“We thought proactively and came up with an idea, ‘responsible care’, where every manufacturer takes full responsibility of the inputs in the production process,” he said.

Some of the issues that ‘responsible care’ will address include how factories treat effluents before being released to waterways, messaging about by-products on commodities and safety measures, disposal of waste generated at the factory level as well as transportation of commodities.

In 2016, the use of water from River Athi was suspended after it was discovered that the river was severely contaminated with industrial and human effluence.

And in 2017, oil spillage caused uproar in Taita Taveta and Makueni counties. One of the most shocking accidents to occur in the history of Kenya as a result of oil spillage was in 2012 when more than 100 people died in Mukuru slums, Nairobi.

In 2016, an accident in Karai, Naivasha, caused the death of 40 people after a lorry carrying highly inflammable substance went up in flames when the driver lost control.

“I believe that there is a professional who did not do something right, may be sealing, packaging, transportation and handling of the substance. Was the driver informed about the speed at which he was supposed to drive? Was he told about he was sitting on fire?” he posed.

In the Responsible Care programme, manufacturers are supposed to have a material safety data sheet. “In human settlements, there is a lot of solid, gaseous and effluent pollution. These must be controlled to ensure that people are safe. Some of the gases are poisonous, for example, fuel with lead may lead to cancer,” he added.

“If waste is segregated at source, it recyclable at a minimum cost. If it is contaminated, the cleaning process may be very tedious and expensive and sometimes not worth the effort at all,” he said.

The programme was launched on November 24, 2017 after reviewing best practices on waste management in other countries.

In Kenya, there is a total of 176 plastics manufacturing companies which in 2016 generated a turnover of Sh100 billion. According to KAM, these have employed over 60,000 people.

KAM has at least 980 members and is in the process of recruiting more, out of which only 150 are not in direct manufacturing, while Light Industries are not members, he said.

“There are like 3,000 industries who may not be members of KAM. We aim to have 75 per cent of the Kenyan manufacturers in KAM, he added.

At least 15 companies have already signed up as champions for responsible care, “We are targeting all our manufacturers and members to take full responsibility and we are doing a lot of training, capacity building. We are facilitating exchange visits between the best performing companies,” he said.

The association has set a target of between three to five years so as to involve all the manufacturers in the programme.

According to Mr Matonda, discussions are still under way about the plastic paper bags ban and environmental conservation.

“We should not apportion blame, we need to know where we went wrong? Is it manufacturing, the retail or the government?” he posed.

On December 15, 2017 a joint initiative by the Environment ministry, KAM and Nema was launched to try and deal with the garbage problem.

Through consultations, stakeholders agreed to adopt a South African model to rid the environment of dirt. KAM chairperson Flora Mutahi during the launch said, “Waste management cannot be dealt with in isolation, it is a global challenge that requires all of us to create sustainable measures to deal with the menace.

The industry embraces the circular economy concept and is looking out for various ways to support the creation of an effective after-use plastics economy.’’