Lack of proper garbage disposal in Kenya has reached alarming levels. Nearly every other major urban centre is facing a crisis of mounting waste due to neglect of collection from relevant authorities. Indeed, Kenyans have become accustomed to living with trash that smartly dressed ladies and gentlemen walk on overflowing slimy gutters without any qualms.
In Nairobi, much of uncollected and undisposed waste is found in the Eastlands area and in informal settlements where majority of the population live. Most of the garbage here consists of organic materials from foodstuffs, polythene papers and used plastic containers. In the affluent areas, most of the waste consists of solids and metals (electronic waste) from malfunctional information and communication technology gadgets.
Basically, main types of waste in the country include domestic waste, waste tyres, construction and demolition waste, asbestos waste, industrial and biomedical waste. Other types of waste emanate from fluorescent lamps, pesticides, used oil and sludge, and sewage.
Another major area experiencing dire waste management crisis is Mombasa, whose county government has shamelessly let to pile up at the city’s main entry along the highway. Nakuru town, formerly a model of a modern and civilised living due to its cleanliness, is today another garbage dump, as is Kisumu’s central business district. Basically, this is a countrywide problem.
Now, collecting waste is one thing, but managing it through proper treatment and disposal is an entirely different matter. Dumpsites across major urban centres are today filled to capacity and are, in fact, a health hazard. Residents in some of these areas have been suffering from respiratory infections and other conditions due to contamination of both water and air in their vicinity.
The launch this week of the National Solid Waste Management Strategy (NSWMS) by the government is an attempt to salvage a clearly desperate situation. However, it is not for lack of the relevant statutes that both national and county authorities have been unable or unwilling to perform their duties. We have reached this tipping point as a result of sheer inertia, corruption and poor planning.
Some of the relevant legal, regulatory and policy principles include Article 42 of the Constitution of Kenya; Environmental Management and Coordination Act, 1999; Vision 2030; Environmental Management and Coordination (Waste Management) Regulations of 2006; Occupational Safety and Health Act, 2007 and; Public Health Act, 2012. Kenya is also a signatory to international agreements like the Basel Convention on the control of transboundary movements of hazardous wastes and their disposal.
Like many other well-meaning blueprints, the NSWMS risks ending up as a waste of resources if the comprehensive strategy is not followed on.
The National Environment Management Authority needs to ensure that there is sufficient sensitisation of the various roles that we all need to perform in order to reduce pollution and environmental degradation as far as waste management is concerned.
Indeed, I would propose the formation of a separate entity to address this menace. This outfit comprising of public health officials, environmental experts and recyclers would go around the country taking an audit of the waste status of urban areas and calling officials who do not perform their duties effectively to account.
We do not need to reinvent the wheel. There are good examples of cost effective waste management technologies from countries like South Africa, Germany and Japan. For instance, the government should zero-rate recycling machinery with the aim of encouraging private sector involvement in waste management.
We do not need to tax Kenyans more to meet the cost of waste management. All we need is to encourage innovation and offer incentives to organisations that would like to turn the waste into money. County governments should also encourage private sector participation in waste disposal and pay for these services from current taxes.