How Nairobi can solve its waste problem
In many parts of Nairobi, particularly in the lower and middle-income areas, there are no waste collection systems. Private waste collection services are flourishing in high-income areas. Residents pay a lot of money without knowing exactly where their waste ends up.
Nairobi’s county government has admitted it cannot manage the waste produced by 2,475 tonnes per day. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is a city with a population of the same size but only produces 1,680 tonnes per day.
Major problems plague Nairobi’s current system of waste disposal. The City has failed to prioritize solid waste management, and there is inadequate infrastructure. There are also multiple actors involved in the system whose activities cannot be controlled. There are more than 150 waste operators in the private sector who independently deal with different aspects of waste disposal. There is no enforcement of the laws or regulations.
Nairobi’s problems with waste disposal are not new, and previous attempts to solve them have failed. In the early 1990s, for example, civil society and private actors signed contracts with waste generators. They did so without consulting or partnering with the city authorities.
Recently, other strategies have been implemented. Some of them left areas of the city cleaner. The system worked for a while, but they were not sustainable due to the lack of institutional change.
There is hope with the new Nairobi Governor, Mike Sonko Mbuvi. He should learn from past mistakes and implement a new system that will address the structural issues that plague the City. This would include a better collection and transportation plan incorporating the private sector.
Learn from the Past
John Gakuo became the town clerk in 2005. During his term (2005-2009), he deliberately introduced new approaches.
They were able to collect a paltry 20% of the waste produced by the City. The City was only able to manage a meager 20 percent of its destruction. The authorities hired private waste collection companies to collect, transport, and dispose of waste at Dandora, which is the largest and only designated dump site. Quickly increased total waste collected, with levels ranging between 45%-60%.
Changes to the following:
It is important to develop a schedule for waste collection and transport with the market operators. The waste collected from the open-air market was taken to designated collection points at specific times.
Dandora has introduced a weighbridge for measuring the amount of waste disposed of. A way to measure the amount of trash disposed at Dandora.
Officers were sent to the notoriously waste-accumulating areas of the City.
More than 2,000 arrests have been made to make residents aware of the illegality and punishments for indiscriminately dumping.
All of these efforts have paid off in some parts of the City. The Central Business District in the heart of the City was cleaned, and the waste was brought under control.
However, important elements that would have made the change sustainable were not included. No new infrastructure was built, such as waste transfer centers or landfills.
Evans Kidero (2013-2017) is the next regime worth mentioning after Gakuo. The government can be credited with trying to speed up the implementation of the Solid Waste Management Plan, which assessed the waste problem in Nairobi and designed projects.
The government is responsible for ensuring that waste management services are properly institutionalized. While the private sector can help with the collection and transport of waste, it’s the government that must provide the necessary support.
Heavy equipment was purchased, and a significant investment was made in 30 waste collection trucks. In an effort to streamline the waste collection, a franchise system was introduced. To make waste management easier, the City was divided into nine zones.
Franchises gave private operators the monopoly on both waste collection and fees but heavily relied on public bodies to enforce the system.
A lack of enforcement from the City was responsible for the failure of this franchise system. The City failed to enforce the franchise system, and private waste collection companies that had contracts with individual waste generators, as well as the appointed contractor, began fighting.
Other changes made during this time were more effective and lasted longer. New laws were created to bring order to the sector. This included the Solid Waste Management Act of 2015. The act classified wastes and created a collection system based on a sub-county system. The legislation also imposed penalties.
In 2016, an additional 17 environmental officers were appointed to sub-counties in order to plan and oversee waste management operations and other environmental issues.
The changes made to the waste management system sowed the seeds for a more efficient and effective method. The regime failed when it came to enforcement. The gains made in the past were quickly lost.