What you need to know:
- In 2014, a gunfight between rival gangs over a truckful of garbage left two dead in Donholm.
- Some of the ‘garbage cartels’ are managed by elected and nominated county leaders, who operate illegal dumpsites.
- Nairobi generates about 2,500 tonnes of solid waste from about 900,000 households daily.
Two incidents in the last decade exposed the mafia-like underworld that is the city’s garbage collection industry.
In 2014, a gunfight between rival gangs over a truckful of garbage left two dead in Donholm. The second was the stabbing to death of a gang leader in Dandora over the control of the city dumpsite.
A crackdown later and police officers recovered five guns. Several gang members died in revenge attacks.
The armed gangs operate with impunity. This is an enterprise that law enforcers have either been unable to deal with or have taken sides, lining their pockets with millions of shillings from the filth.
Some of the ‘garbage cartels’ are managed by elected and nominated county leaders, who operate illegal dumpsites.
“Some leaders are in the garbage collection business. Some dump the trash in rivers and other undesignated areas,” a source told the Nation.
Nairobi generates about 2,500 tonnes of solid waste from about 900,000 households daily. City Hall collects only 1,000 tonnes.
The Environment and Natural Resources director Isaac Muraya told the Nation in 2018 that the county collects about 70 per cent of the waste while private firms, community-based organisations and other actors deal with the remaining.
County staff, assisted by hired contractors, collect mainly public waste and garbage from high generating areas like markets and factories. The arrangement opens up doors for unlicensed players to deal with the remaining areas.
For easy collection, former Governor Evans Kidero’s administration divided the city into 17 zones. Each was managed by specific contractors. “Private firms serve gated communities in medium and high income areas. They usually have contractual obligations with waste generators,” Mr Muraya said.
He admitted that unlicensed actors do not take their garbage to Dandora because a they would have to part with Sh1,000 per tonne. “They avoid the official dumpsite and take the garbage to undesignated areas to maximise profits,” he said.
Unlicensed collectors usually come for the garbage at night to avoid officers from the Nairobi Inspectorate Department.
If, for instance, the average fee of Sh500 is charged on each household, it means unlicensed collectors make more than Sh5.4 billion annually.
Ms Lencer Atieno, a resident of Lucky Summer estate, says most illegal dumpsites are in the slums, adding that the landfills are not easily accessible.
She says the garbage mostly comes from Lavington, Karen, Kileleshwa, Runda, Muthaiga and other posh regions.
The Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations (Kara) chief executive Henry Ochieng says private collectors charge between Sh200 and Sh2,000. Eastlands residents pay the lowest fee.
Youths employed by the unlicensed collectors move from door to door getting the trash at a fee.
“This mound has been here for long and continues to grow,” Ms Atieno says, pointing at a hill of garbage that appears more than six months old.
“You will never see them when they are dumping. You only notice the garbage when you wake up in the morning,” she says.
The Waste and Environment Management Association of Kenya (Wemak) lobby reached out to Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko soon after he assumed office in 2017 and asked him to dismantle the cartels.
Wemak chairman Chege Kariuki called on the governor to insist on zoning and franchising trash collection as a way of eliminating the “cartels that control the industry”.
Mr Kariuki said scrapping unnecessary conditions such as road licence fees, tipping charges and payment for security in Dandora on private operators would streamline the industry, thus driving unlicensed individuals and firms out of business.
The many charges at the dumpsite have made the cartels thrive, he added.
The setting up of designated holding areas for recyclable waste would help keep Nairobi clean, create employment and eliminate illegal stations.
“We pay an authority licence fee of Sh20,000 per vehicle annually, Sh1,000 per truck for each trip as tipping fee, Sh5,000 for the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) permit and many other charges.
These charges are a burden that makes the illegal business thrive,” said Mr Kariuki.