To resolve life-threatening air and other forms of pollution, Nairobi City County has embarked on a project to set up 17 modern waste management centres.
The centres, called Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs), will apply modern waste recycling technology to convert waste into reusable materials.
Thanks to the plan, the all-familiar heaps of garbage that have been an eyesore for decades in the expansive city, especially in Eastlands and major markets, could be a thing of the past.
The initiative is expected to greatly impact the hygiene, health and safety of the city’s expanding population.
“Nairobi is transitioning from the linear model of ‘consume and dispose of’ to the circular model that is geared towards a zero-waste city,” said Environment executive Larry Wambua.
“Some 17 sites have been identified across the city and are earmarked for the construction of recycling facilities. It is a long-term plan that has components to be achieved in the short term.”
Already, two such facilities - one at the Muthurwa market in Starehe constituency and the other at Mowlem in Embakasi West sub-county - are under construction while the rest will be built as funds become available.
The location of each facility has been approved based on environmental and health concerns in a given residential community and the availability of land.
The facilities will be overseen by selected community members alongside county officials.
The MRFs are meant to meet recommended international standards requiring that every city have a well-thought-out, well-managed waste disposal and recycling system to reduce pollutants to air, water and soil, said Dr Philip Osano, director of the Stockholm Environment Institute’s Africa Centre (SEI Africa) one of the implementers of the initiative.
Challenge of climate change
“Through this project, Kenya is joining other African nations that are developing an action plan to reduce short-lived climate pollutants, eventually contributing to the global warming problem, thus providing a model for other countries in the continent.”
In 2014, Kenya entered into an agreement under the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to create a technical, institutional and financing framework to mitigate short-lived climate pollutants.
These pollutants, in their small waste form, contribute to the global challenge of climate change.
In 2016, Kenya embarked on the journey to reduce pollution by enacting the Climate Change Act that required the national and county governments to implement a five-year National Climate Change Action Plan.
Mr Wambua said that the Nairobi County Assembly is cascading the national framework for short-lived climate pollutants.
The Unep regional office for Africa, the African Union Commission and SEI Africa have jointly been carrying out studies on Nairobi air pollution.
The studies revealed that residents are exposed to air pollution from carbon emissions from traffic, burning waste openly, domestic fossil fuel and industries.
To encourage easy sorting of waste at the source, refuse collectors will be required to separate waste according to three different colour codes.
These are ‘green’ for organic waste, ‘blue’ for recyclable waste and ‘brown’ for other forms of waste.
“In addition, a feasibility study is being undertaken in preparation for an appropriate final disposal site for waste that is not recyclable,” Mr Wambua added.
It is expected the new facilities will lead to behaviour change among residents so that they can stop burning waste in the open, which is responsible for heavy carbon emissions, especially in densely polluted areas.
“We will continue sensitising Nairobians against open burning of waste. We have seen a progressive change in areas where it has stopped. Behaviour change may take a long time to be achieved and we have to make public engagement a continuous process,” Mr Wambua said.
Many motor vehicles in the city belch heavy smoke from their exhaust systems. Mr Wambua insisted that the county government has not ignored this menace as it is engaging with relevant stakeholders on vehicle standards regarding air pollution.
“The National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) and the traffic police are in charge of inspecting the emission standards of vehicles,” he said.
“There is also work in progress to decongest the town centre by relocating public transport termini to the periphery of the CBD. Work is also in progress (to establish) the non-motorised transport system in the city. All this is geared towards reducing pollutants.”