A vision for sustainable waste management in Nairobi

In the news

April 22, 2024

Plastic pollution, an urgent global crisis, has reached every corner of the world. More than 90% of plastic produced since 1950 ends up in landfills, incinerated or leaks into the environment, causing irreversible damage to ecosystems and wildlife. Recent revelations expose the role of oil and gas companies in exacerbating the plastic waste crisis by misleading the public with false recycling promises while ramping up production of virgin plastic. In Kenya, where informal waste management prevails, plastic pollution poses serious environmental and health risks to waste workers and nearby communities.

With India’s oldest and largest landfill, Ghazipur in Delhi, going up in flames again on the eve of Earth Day 2024, with significant health consequences for the local population, it is now more important than ever to raise awareness on this global problem and emphasize the importance of working on solutions that involve all stakeholders, including local people and informal waste workers who spend their days, and sometimes even nights, at the landfills.

A holistic waste management solution

Nairobi, home to numerous largely unregulated landfills, including East Africa’s largest, Dandora, is struggling with increasing amounts of waste, generating around 3,207 tonnes per day, of which only a fraction is recycled. In response, a diverse coalition made up of government agencies, companies, NGOs and waste workers is leading the Circular Economy Innovation Cluster, a program of EIT Climate-KIC in partnership with GrowthAfrica and funded by the IKEA Foundation.

In an interview with EIT Climate-KIC, Mavji Varsani, CEO of Vintz Plastics, a plastics recycling company part of the Circular Economy Innovation Cluster network, said: “The main challenges facing Kenya’s waste management sector are related to the failure to implement policies. Education is crucial. The sector needs to be aware of how to properly manage and dispose of waste for environmental safety. We need to find ways to innovate and give value to waste, turning it into a resource. This change in mentality can benefit the entire sector.”

Recognizing the limitations of relying solely on recycling, the cluster adopts a holistic strategy, involving local stakeholders to identify challenges and develop circular ideas, particularly targeting upstream innovations and marginalized groups such as informal waste workers. The focus is not only on recycling, but also on waste prevention, guided by core circular principles, sparking a transformative shift in Nairobi’s approach to waste management.

Mavji Varsani, CEO of Vintz Plastics

Key insights from a baseline study conducted by Wasafiri Consulting highlight the need for upstream circular solutions, the integration of informal workers into waste management initiatives and the need for diverse platforms to foster collaboration. The program will also facilitate knowledge exchange and co-learning events to bridge silos and accelerate the transition to circularity.

The Circular Economy Innovation Cluster in Nairobi aims to serve as a hub for collaboration, ideation and incubation of circular business models that can help reduce and prevent waste and promote resource efficiency. Through targeted support and mentorship, GrowthAfrica will support entrepreneurs to develop and scale innovative solutions that address the root causes of waste and pollution in the city, especially in biowaste, agricultural waste and solid waste (plastic, paper, metal, glass, etc. .). etc). They will also work to improve the working conditions of informal waste workers, especially women, who are often marginalized in the waste management sector.

Gisore Nyabuti, Secretary General of the Kenya National Waste Pickers Welfare Association

Gisore Nyabuti, Secretary General of the Kenya National Waste Pickers Welfare Association, also part of the Circular Economy Innovation Cluster, explains: “The main objective of the association is to ensure the welfare of waste pickers. We want them to live a life of dignity. We needed something to unite them, to give them a collective voice, because there are countless health risks associated with collecting waste. Some waste pickers resort to burning plastic to stay warm while sleeping in the dump. So what we do is set up companies, with the intention of giving them shares so that they can continue to receive dividends when their age means they can no longer work in the landfill. We strive for their involvement in every aspect of the waste management value chain. We are currently looking for partners for a five-year collaboration to set up centers and systems. After this period, we expect that waste pickers will start to benefit from the organization.”

This year’s global environmental campaign, Earth Day, calls for a 60% reduction in plastic production by 2040. In light of the escalating plastic pollution crisis, EIT Climate-KIC’s efforts in Nairobi are an example of the power of systemic change and collective action. By incubating and accelerating circular innovations, building capacity, fostering partnerships and demonstrating best practices, we are supporting a long-term transformation of waste management and prevention practices in Nairobi.

Visit the EIT Climate-KIC Innovation Cluster for the Circular Economy page for more information

Photos by Fine Focus Productions.