Time we instituted effective waste management system

People collecting plastic bottles

People collecting plastic waste from Nairobi River for recycling. Waste sorting cab be a way of life.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Waste disposal is a headache for industrialising economies. And with the new government and an anticipated economic boom, waste creation is likely to shoot up, hence the need for an effective waste management system.

Here, waste is refuse—any object or substance that one has no use of. Four of the various types of waste are liquid, solid, organic and hazardous. Some are recyclable.

Solid waste is from industries, commercial enterprises and residential areas. They include ceramics, plastics, paper, glassware, metal waste and defunct appliances.

Liquid waste comprises sludge, dirty water, oil, grease and any flowing waste, including leachate from decomposing vegetable matter. Organic is from the kitchen, farm and marketplace.

Hazardous waste—toxic, corrosive, flammable and reactive—is highly harmful to life and the environment. It originates from industries, mines, residential installations, military bases, hospitals, farms, automotive garages and landfills.

Disposal of waste is of concern. Waste handling ways are summarised by the 4Rs of waste management: Reduce, reuse, recycle and recover, the drivers of circular economies.

Reduce aims at minimising the rate of waste creation through reuse, recycling and recovering. It advises people to purchase items that are durable, reusable and recyclable.

Reuse, separately, commends the use of an item for a purpose different from the intended after the old one expires. The use of old tyres to make seats, for instance, is reuse while their use for making stylish sandals (akala) is recycling.

Recycling means remodelling a used object and giving it a second chance; modifying its form. To use waste paper to make cardboards or the use of water bottles to make flower containers is recycling.

To recover is to salvage from destruction and loss; pulling out a product from its wasteful state and making it useful through processing. Methane gas, for instance, can be recovered from a garbage dump or cow dung, just like carbon dioxide from industrial emissions.

Where the 4Rs fail, D (Destruction) is brought in: Incineration, burying, compaction and compositing. The waste is pulverised; or obliterated.

Waste management starts with everyone assiduously managing waste within their spaces. Children must be trained on waste management right from their formative years in school and at home to enhance a ‘cleaner environment’ mind-set.

Waste sorting can be a way of life, from the kitchen to public grounds and the office. In villages, where municipal garbage bins are unavailable, every homestead should have a well-constructed waste pit for immolation of unrecyclable waste as vegetable refuse is composited or scattered in farmlands.

County governments should set up differently coloured and labelled bins in urban estates, at agreed-upon spots, and in towns, where waste is categorised and deposited. It is advisable to place the waste in gurney bags first. The bins should be emptied on separate days by licensed waste collectors.

Waste can be mined and turned into a source of employment. The 4Rs of waste management can be sources of livelihoods for many Kenyans. There is always an opportunity in every misfortune and somebody’s waste could be another’s wealth.

- Dr Kipkiror, PhD, an environmental consultant and lead expert/auditor in environmental/social impact assessment, is a member of the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) board of directors. [email protected].