A week ago as I waited for a bus, I was appalled to see a roadside roast maize vendor dump a full sack of maize husks in an open trench along one of Nairobi’s major roads. More shocking was his response when I tried to engage him on the adverse environmental and health effects of his actions.
“Why not?” he retorted, “the rains will wash them away.”
A few metres down, the trench was filled with synthetic (mostly plastic bottles) and organic food waste, making its way to rivers. Given the state of our drainages, it is no wonder that roads flood during the rainy season.
Despite efforts by the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and other environmentally-conscious organisations to curb littering, many Kenyans are indifferent to prudent waste management.
We cannot have NEMA officers trailing us to check that we don’t throw sugarcane remains or banana peels out our car windows.
How about saving that banana peel or sweet wrapper, or plastic soda bottle in your bag until you get to a suitable site of disposal such as a dustbin, or your garden for the organic waste which would be a good source of nutrients for your plants?
The ban on plastic carrier bags was a great effort towards sustainable environmental conservation. However, more than a year into the ban, there have been reports of people still using the commodity. So, what exactly is the problem?
NEED FOR SENSITISATION
More Kenyans need to be sensitised on the importance of maintaining a clean environment. This would translate to visible individual and collective action. It is the simple, but innovative approaches that will lead us to achieving the bigger outcomes.
Before we think of initiating larger community-based initiatives such as “umuganda” which has played a big role in pushing Kigali to the status of one of the cleanest cities in Africa, we need to begin renewing the mindset of the Kenyan citizen.
Our complacency has been driven and sustained by decades of living ‘normally’ in littered spaces, not forgetting the ever-present hygiene and sanitation challenges facing many informal settlements as a result of indiscriminate littering and dumping of waste.
Achieving this level of environmental awareness, coupled with action, would require multi-sectoral approaches so that each Kenyan can better fulfill his earthly duty.
For example, I no longer see dustbins in public service vehicles. I also yearn to see more disposal bins in public spaces. If it means that we put up ‘usitupe takataka hapa’ notices to remind us not to litter, then let’s do that.
To reduce the plastic bottle menace, how about incentivising Kenyans to foster recycling by attaching a value to soda or water bottles or beer cans so that after use they can be handed over for recycling in exchange for ‘something small.’
This ‘incentive’ will normally be included in the cost of the beverages so that the customer is ‘reimbursed’ once they hand over the bottle for recycling.I have seen this working efficiently in Sweden (I know it works in other countries too) where one can buy food from proceeds of ‘panting’ as the process is referred to.
With such a strategy, when people see a can or plastic bottle, they will see money! Who would want to see money lying around?
Another area that needs to be exploited is scaling up environmental education before and during elementary school. Beyond the environmental clubs in primary school, what happens to those who are not part of these clubs?
We need to build an environmental-friendly culture from the very early stages of learning, with the hope that this awareness and practice will spill into the latter stages of life.
These proposed solutions are not an end to themselves. There is so much that could be done simultaneously, but we need a starting point.
Change starts with me. Change starts with you, then it becomes a community and national affair. All these levels are interconnected and each has their role but for now, challenge your inner self, challenge the person seated next to you in a matatu, or your colleague at work, or the mama mboga or maize roaster that you have a regular ‘appointment’ with after work. Challenge your children.
Let us take individual responsibility for our environment, then we can derive the satisfaction and pride that comes from being part of the solution, rather than the problem.
Ms Ngunjiri is a public health practitioner