Managing solid waste remains a nightmare for Nairobi County

What you need to know:

  • City officials have acknowledged that they don’t have the capacity to handle the garbage generated daily, and efforts to get private firms to help have borne little fruit.
  • Scientists, led by a lecturer at the University of Nairobi’s Department of Chemistry, Prof Shem Wandiga, have warned of increased air pollution in Nairobi if the dumpsite is not closed down.
  • Strategic partnerships will rope in CBOs and private service providers to clear the accumulated waste. In addition, CBOs will be brought to work under one umbrella group, and only those that have the means to hire vehicles to transport waste will be registered.

That Nairobi city cannot cope with its solid waste is incontestable. A walk along a few city streets or estates is proof that the city is chocking in its own garbage. In fact, the county government has acknowledged that the rate at which the city’s residents are generating solid waste exceeds its capacity to manage it. According to Nairobi Governor Dr Evans Kidero, the city produces 1,700 tonnes of solid waste daily, which City Hall simply cannot handle.

The situation is giving county officials sleepless nights as they seek ways to tackle the garbage collection problem. Most city residents have tales of heaps of uncollected garbage lying in their neighbourhoods. This is especially true for residential estates in Eastlands, but it also happens in some parts of the posh Westlands, as well as in the city’s informal settlements.

The situation is no different on some of the streets in the city centre, where piles of garbage remain uncollected for weeks, limiting use of the streets and emitting a foul smell.

An attempt by the county government to streamline waste disposal using the franchise model, whereby the city was divided into nine zones to make it easier to manage waste, failed.


Police officers along Mama Ngina street attempt to clear the road after garbage collecting trucks driving towards county hall protested over the termination of their garbage collection services to pave way for another new company. PHOTO | FILE

During the experiment with the franchise model, two pilot projects were launched in November 2014, and City Hall sought private companies to do the garbage collection. However, it ended up giving the job to one company. But since the county had done little to create awareness of the  system among the public, it failed to pick up as anticipated. As a result, very few household subscribed for the services, and there was no segregation of waste at source. So far, only 5 per cent of the targeted households have participated in the project.

It is notable that since 2012, the Government of Japan has been trying to help fix the city’s solid waste management problem through the Japan International Corporation Agency (JICA). The project sought to adopt scientific methods to extend the use of the Dandora dumpsite, which is already bearing more than its intended capacity. It is unfortunate that the first phase of the project, now in its fourth year, has not borne much fruit.

Speaking at the final seminar on the first phase of the Project for Capacity Development of Solid Waste Management of Nairobi held on March 1, 2016, at a Nairobi hotel,  JICA expert team leader Mr Masakazu Maeda expressed concern that the Nairobi county government was not keen on implementing solid waste management.

“There lacks close communication and information sharing between the county officials, residents and private sector players, which is central to the success of the project,” said Mr Maeda. He also noted that the county officials charged with the environment had not shown strong commitment to working together to tackle the problem of solid waste management. 

Mr Madea said another reason for the failure of the franchise model was inadequate cooperation among key stakeholders, including private service providers, in solid waste management.

The Waste and Environmental Management Association of Kenya (Wemak), an umbrella body of companies that offer  waste management services, moved to court late last year to challenge the franchise model. Wemak argued that the county government had shown neither fairness nor transparency when it awarded the tender to one company.

“Waste management has become a cash cow, which some senior officials at City Hall are using to make millions of shillings. All the methods they have been introducing to improve the garbage business have failed because they are not consulting with private garbage collectors,” said Samuel Onyancha, the association’s chairman.

The root cause of waste accumulation in Nairobi are the conflicts among unregistered waste collection groups that are competing for the millions of shillings in Nairobi’s waste collection. The groups are run by young people who have registered community-based organisations (CBOs) in the city. “The county government has allowed some CBOs to collect waste in low-income residential areas in the city. They are tasked with  delivering the waste to designated collection points, but since most of them use hand handcarts, more commonly known as mikokoteni,  sometimes they dump it in undesignated places,” Mr Onyancha explains.


But in some cases, it is the county government that takes long to collect this waste from the designated collection points.

 “This leads to the accumulation of waste that is being witnessed in most parts of the city,” Mr Onyancha offers.

Of even greater concern is the fact that the 30-acre Dandora Dumpsite is already bearing more garbage than it was intended to. While it was meant to hold 500,000 tonnes of garbage, some 1.8 million tonnes have been dumped there.

Scientists, led by a lecturer at the University of Nairobi’s Department of Chemistry, Prof Shem Wandiga, have warned of increased air pollution in Nairobi if the dumpsite is not closed down. They say the 30-year-old facility is way past its maximum shelf-life of 14 years, and has become a major health threat to Nairobi  residents.

The county government has set aside Sh220 million to rehabilitate John Osogo and Muigai Kenyatta roads, which lead to the dumpsite. The two roads are riddled with potholes, which cause the garbage being transported in open trucks to spill all over them.

Nearly 100 trucks take  garbage to the Dandora Dumpsite. Each has to wait about four hours to offload its waste, says Lucy Ngorongo, proprietor of Junky Bins, a private garbage collection firm. The delays mean that more waste accumulates in different party of the city

Ms Ngorongo adds: “Most vehicles are getting damaged and we are incurring huge losses in repairs because they have to be pulled from the frontage to the site by bulldozers.

The situation is aggravated by cartels operating at the dumpsite, who demand Sh200 from contractors to offload the waste.

“If our drivers refuse to pay, the crew is beaten, or in some instances, the vehicles are burnt,” Mr Onancha says adding,

“The cartels have co-existed with the dumpsite for as long as I can remember,” says Onyancha who has been in waste collection business in Nairobi for the last 15 years.

Besides polluting the air, the waste from the dumpsite is finding its way into Nairobi River, thus  polluting  the water that many people downstream use to grow vegetables and other crops, raising questions as to how safe it is to consume such vegetables.


Garbage heap along River road in Nairobi's CBD on April 23, 2016. PHOTO | MARTIN MUKANGU

Plans to set up a new dumping facility in Ruai, some 27 km from the CBD, were put on hold after experts warned that that would attract birds, which could interfere with planes heading to and from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

The proposed Ruai landfill facility has not yet been licensed by the National Environment Management Authority because of a court case between the Nairobi County Government, the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) and the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA). KAA wants the county government to first address its concerns.

Since Ruai is on a flight path, the county government has to ensure that the presence of waste does not lead to a high population of birds. Their presence there would hinder safety in aviation. “The design that the county government is using does not guarantee that there will be no such birds in the air as there are at the Ruai dumpsite,” says George Adede of KAA.

However, the county government insists that it has already got the land allotment letter from the National Land Commission (NLC).

“Ruai is county land. What is remaining is for the Nairobi County Government to secure the title deed,” says Tom Odongo, the city’s executive committee member for the environment, water and energy.

The 1,500-acre parcel of land houses a sewage treatment plant, within  which an area will be allocated for the landfill. Mr Odongo, avers that Ruai will be used as a sanitary landfill and not a transfer of the Dandora dumpsite.



JICA’s tough conditions for Nairobi County 

THE FUTURE OF the project that is meant to rescue Nairobi residents from the mountains of garbage remains uncertain after the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) made it clear that it will support the project only if the county government demonstrates its commitment to implementing it in the proper manner.

One of the agency’s recommendations is that the county government first resolve the Ruai land issue.

JICA also insists that every member of the Nairobi County administration should work to eliminate corruption, and that the Dandora Dumpsite should  be fenced.

In addition, it says the county government should conduct public education and awareness on integrated solid waste management.

The agency said it is only after these recommendations have been fully implemented that it will support the second phase of the project, which addresses sustainable waste management at the Dandora Dumpsite, in order to prolong its life.

Also slated for development with support from JICA is a material recovery facility (MRF) that will ensure that all the incoming waste is separated into organic, recyclable and non-organic. The organic waste will be fermented for 30 days to reduce its volume by about 55 per cent and to ensure that it is unpalatable to storks.

The fermented, pre-composite and residual waste will then be transferred to the Ruai landfill, as the sorted recyclables are taken recycling dealers. This will ensure that the Ruai landfill does not attract storks and other birds, and that it is not an environmental menace like the Dandora Dumpsite. However, these plans will likely remain on paper if the recommendations by JICA are not followed.

The county government says that it is already working on the recommendations. This includes the  acquisition of an additional 29 new vehicles for transporting the collected waste, Mr Tom Odongo says.

“We are also coming up with on-site conveyer belts for waste collection,” he adds. This will see the waste trucks leave the site faster since they will not have to wait for long to offload their cargo.

Strategic partnerships will rope in CBOs and private service providers to clear the accumulated waste. In addition, CBOs will be brought to work under one umbrella group, and only those that have the means to hire vehicles to transport waste will be registered.

“This will make it easy for the county officials to monitor their operations to reduce illegal dumpsites,” Mr Odongo says. Other long-term measures are the streamlining of recycling industries so that they can use most of the material recovered from solid waste.

To prevent leakage of waste from the Dandora Dumpsite into the Nairobi River, the county government is putting up a perimeter wall.

“It has taken the contractor long to complete the work. The dumpsite is a challenging environment. The construction is at 70 per cent and, hopefully, it will be completed soon,” Mr Odongo says.