John Kamau, like many poor residents of Nakuru town, has been making a living from landfill scavenging.
He is a Form Four dropout and poverty caused by unemployment has forced him to scavenge.
He gathers discarded objects, turning them into valuables.
His work station is Gioto dumpsite, the largest in the county. He is among 200 families who are unaware of the threats and opportunities related to the landfill site.
The potential of scavenging in sustaining livelihoods among those who cannot secure employment in the formal urban market in this landfill is massive.
Scavenging tends to be useful although it may be hazardous.
"I lost my three fingers when I stumbled upon hazardous chemicals which burnt my fingers. When I was taken to hospital, doctors said the fingers could not be treated and they were chopped off," says Kamau.
The majority of scavengers do not use any protective clothing. However, a few use gloves and boots collected from the dumpsite.
Mary Kiluvi lives in a shack at the dumpsite. She is limping while working at the dumpsite with her two children aged three and five. She was injured by a sharp object on her left leg while working in the open dumpsite.
"I felt like sharp razor blades cut me and the wound has not healed despite visiting a dispensary," she says.
Her two children, who look malnourished, have been diagnosed with intestinal worms at the Nakuru Level Five Hospital. They also suffer from diarrhoea.
Bosco Kimani is partially blind after one of his colleagues splashed his face with a hazardous chemical as they scrambled for valuables in the dumpsite.
"I strain a lot to see. I was not born like this. My colleague splashed me with some liquid as we were fighting in the dumpsite and, since then, I have never been able to see well," he says.
Some of the scavengers also suffer from respiratory disorders and typhoid. Scavengers may also contract skin, eye and respiratory infections due to coming into contact with hazardous chemicals.
These are some of the multiple risks and diseases the majority of waste pickers working in the largest garbage dumpsite in the county undergo in search of livelihood opportunities.
The United Nations Environmental Programme (Unep) says that scavengers may suffer from respiratory disorders due to protracted exposure to smoke from fires and dust from the dumpsite waste.
Some scavengers may be injured by sharp objects resulting in death or get exposed to HIV and even hepatitis infection from health care waste.
But there is hope. Biomedical waste, according to a proposed Nakuru County Waste Management Bill, 2020, should be disposed of through incineration in line with standards prescribed in the Environment Management and Coordination Act.
Gioto dumpsite is set to become a new centre for entrepreneurship as the Nakuru County Assembly proposes tough measures to address the environmental, social and health effects related to management of solid waste to protect these families.
"Scavenging is an opportunity for wealth creation and employment among low-income earners who work at the dumpsite by collecting plastics, paper, glass bottles, and rubber materials. The county government has come up with a Bill that will be a game-changer in the management of the solid waste," says Nakuru County Chief Officer in charge of Environment, Water, Energy and Natural Resources, Kiogora Muriithi.
"The Bill also aims at addressing health risk protection behaviour, knowledge, attitudes, and practices among scavengers exposed to solid waste in the dumpsite and reducing adverse exposure during waste collection," he added.
The Bill, sponsored by nominated MCA Elizabeth Wacheke Gichuki, proposes tough measures to address management of solid waste, effluent and other hazardous waste that ends up in Lake Nakuru National Park.
Any person who pollutes the environment will pay a fine of not less than Sh1 million and not more than Sh2 million, states the Bill.
The proposed regulation further says that individuals or firms that dump waste on land or any other place not designated for this shall be guilty of an offence and, upon conviction, will pay a fine of not less than Sh200,000.
In addition to the heavy fines, the firms or individuals may be directed by a court to pay the full cost of cleaning up the polluted environment.
"The court may direct the polluter to meet the cost of pollution to any third parties through adequate compensation, restoration or restitution," reads the Bill.
It adds that companies that wrongfully discharge harmful waste will be fined between Sh2 million and Sh4 million and that their officials will be imprisoned for no less than two years.
The effluent and other hazardous waste from the landfill ends up in Lake Nakuru National Park and has in the past been blamed for polluting the lake.
The closure of the landfill seems inevitable, despite the apparent short-term livelihood opportunities it provides to the informal sector.
According to Mr Muriithi, the county plans to relocate the dumpsite as it is near the proposed Nakuru City.
The landfill was set up in 1974 and, according to Nakuru County Integrated Waste Management project, which is sponsored by the National Treasury through the World Bank, the dumpsite is set to undergo major changes.
"The proposal was made in 2014, and we have selected transactional adviser companies who are capable of managing waste through public-private partnerships and six international companies who will guide us through the process of decommissioning that dumpsite are working on the project," said Mr Muriithi.
He revealed that the project will address the waste, which has been there since 1974.
"The lead project managers have given different proposals on how to deal with it, including coming up with a dirty material recovery facility. It will clear that material and what will remain will be kept in a sanitary landfill,” says Mr Murithi.
At the same time, he revealed that the county has elaborate plans of buying bigger land, which will act as support for the Gioto dumpsite.
However, he said the biggest challenge is getting the land.
"We were almost getting five acres land in Gilgil and we were at the tail end of buying it and we almost paid the owner but members of the public started complaining they will not allow a dumpsite near their area," said the official.
"We shelved the idea because we did not want to pay money and go into litigation. Interestingly, many want to have a dumpsite but not near their backyards. Some people buy land next to the dumpsite and complain later asking for compensation."
He said there are two litigations from the residents urging the county to close Naivasha and Nakuru dumpsites, which they claim are health hazards.
In 2010, then Nakuru Municipality held talks with rich landowner Lord Delamere with the aim of buying 100 acres for the dumpsite land but the landowner changed his mind.
"Lord Delamere was not happy with the way the discussions were conducted and he pulled out of the talks. We hope to resume the talks and see whether we can convince them to change their mind," said Mr Muriithi.
According to him, the devolved unit has embraced a waste circular economy.
"We have done a lot of intervention between waste generation up to the dumpsite. A lot of waste is sorted out at the source and does not end up at the landfill and this is what we are referring to as a waste recovery system for valuable waste which turns into another stream of revenue," said Mr Muriithi.
He said the waste from the source is first transferred to a substation where it is sorted and whatever ends up at the dumpsite is what is not needed.
"Garbage collectors in the estates ensure that only unusable waste ends up at the dumpsite and this has reduced piling up of waste such as plastic, which used to end up at lake Nakuru National Park," said Mr Muriithi.
"We call for a long partnership with the county and other stakeholders so that any valuable waste does not find its way to the dumpsite. We have acquired land and very soon we shall establish a recycling plant. Scavengers will benefit as they will sell their valuables at a good market price instead of being exploited by middlemen who buy at throw-away prices," said Mr Wang'ombe Maina, the Chief Executive Officer of Salvage Services.
He said government and non-governmental organisations should enlighten scavengers on the significance of protective clothing and good hygiene.
"Policymakers should assist the scavengers through workshops on-site that will assist them to change their behaviour and become wealth makers and create job opportunities," said Mr Maina.