Murriet Landfill, Arusha city’s major garbage disposal site, was once a large, open eye sore.
Dozens of dump trucks frequently shuttled to the site to dispose of the city’s unsightly trash there.
As time went by, the filth and the putrid smell of the decaying piles of waste from the dumpsite became both unbearable and incompatible with Arusha’s green image.
It also hurt the residents’ health, and pride too. Then in 2014, the Tanzanian government embarked on an ambitious mission of fixing the city’s mess to restore its glory.
“Would you believe that we are now walking over garbage? You cannot even get the smell of garbage,” Marco Chacha, the Murriet Landfill manager, said as he led a delegation of MCAs from Murang’a County who were in Arusha for benchmarking.
Before Tanzania embarked on changing the way garbage in its cities is collected and disposed of, it was not very different from Kenya, where over 45 per cent of waste from major towns either goes uncollected or is poorly disposed of.
At the Murriet Landfill, which occupies over 29 acres of land, wheel loaders and earth movers press the tonnes of garbage before covering them with black cotton soil.
By the time they are done, the dump site looks like some random agricultural farm land.
After waste is dumped at one edge of the site, a host of waste pickers move in to scavenge through the heaps of garbage, salvaging whatever they can sell as recyclable materials or animal feed.
“When garbage is trucked into the site during the day, we allow waste pickers to sort out items like plastic materials. Then at night our tractors compact and bury what is left,” Chacha said.
Established in 2003 as an open dumpsite, just like Kenya’s infamous Dandora dumpsite in Nairobi, the Murriet Landfill once posed a big waste disposal headache to authorities in Arusha.
Back then, people disposed of their trash haphazardly, choking the city with loads of trash.
Flies also ran riot as the water from the decaying waste seeped underground, thus polluting nearby rivers and boreholes.
Diseases such as cholera became rampant as was pollution.
In the face of these challenges, the Tanzanian government introduced a modern waste-management technology in 2014.
It replicated the project in other Tanzanian mainland cities and towns like Dodoma, Kigoma, Mbeya and Mwatwa, which had similar crises.
Four years on, the Murriet Landfill now offers the much-needed solid waste management lessons for many East African cities, including those in Kenya, where the national government plans to build a sanitary landfill in Mitumbiri village, Murang’a County, at an estimated cost Sh1.2 billion.
The Nairobi Services Improvement Project (NaMSIP), a Ministry of Lands undertaking, which is in charge of the proposed Mitumbiri landfill, has identified two other Nairobi metropolitan counties – Machakos and Kajiado – for similar landfills.
Uncollected waste across cities and towns in Kenya remains among the most visible environmental hazards.
Also increasingly pronounced are the frequent outbreaks of cholera and diseases like chikungunya, a mosquito-borne viral disease, which scientists have linked to poor sanitation and waste management.
On average, Kenya’s six cities and major towns – Nairobi, Kisumu, Thika, Nakuru, Mombasa and Eldoret – generate 6,000 tonnes of waste daily.
However, only 3,962 tonnes are collected, according to the National Environmental Complaints Committee report released in June last year.
Mr Peter Bundi, a senior assistant director for environment at NaMSIP, said that poor waste disposal poses major health and sanitation problems for the country, particularly around Nairobi.
Population explosions across cities the world over exert pressure on social infrastructure, such as housing and transport, meaning that city authorities must develop smart, efficient and sustainable alternatives.
Devolution in Kenya has seen the country undergo rapid urbanisation, leading to unplanned developments and an increase in waste generation.
Environment advocates say that use of landfills in solid waste management, which has been used successfully in other countries, can also be replicated locally as well.
A survey conducted in five Nairobi metropolitan counties – Nairobi, Murang’a, Machakos, Kiambu and Kajiado – found out that there were no proper waste collection, transportation and disposal systems.
Once it is completed, the proposed sanitary landfill project in Murang’a County – which will sit on 50 acres – is expected to become a model of how Kenya can improve its management of solid waste.
“We have taken every necessary measure to ensure the Mitumbiri landfill remains safe to health and the environment,” Mr Bundi said.
He also noted that the government had purchased another 20 acres in the same area to be used as a buffer zone between the locals and the site.
“We have created 250 metres buffer zones all around the landfills where we will plant trees and also sink at least three deep boreholes to monitor surface and underground water pollution,” said Mr Bundi.
As opposed to open dumping like in Dandora where heaps of garbage are left to decompose in the open, in landfills, waste materials are compacted and buried, eliminating both the bad odour and ugly sights of mountains of trash.
The Murriet Landfill, located about eight kilometres to the south of Arusha, has an estimated lifespan of 10 years and receives at least 271 tonnes of solid waste every day from within the city and surrounding towns.
James Lobikoki, the Arusha city sanitation and environment officer, said that in the area which has about 700,000 people distributed across 25 wards, less than a kilo of waste is generated per person per day.
To streamline garbage collection and disposal, the Arusha City Council not only built the landfill but also enacted a host of bylaws which roped in local residents, private firms and Community Based Organisations (CBOs) into daily garbage collection and disposal, Mr Lobikoki said.
The bylaws provide guiding tariffs for waste collection charges.
For instance, households pay between Tsh1,000 (Sh50) and Tsh2,000 (Sh100) while small businesses pay Tsh5,000 (Sh250) per month for the waste they generate.
Because the CBOs come from within the localities, they would not want their areas to look filthy so they work hard to ensure the cleanliness of their neighbourhoods.
Members of the contracted CBOs and private companies sweep, collect and transport the garbage.
“They also collect revenues for garbage collection and remit 15 per cent of the amount to the local authority. The city council provides receipts which once used are returned to the city council at the end of every month for auditing,” Mr Lobikoki said.
Trucks loaded with solid waste are weighed at the weighbridge at the entrance of the landfill and, after dumping the waste, they are again weighed to find the net weight of the load they transported.
At the site, the waste is compacted to minimise the space they take up and to prevent multiplication of flies.
What is compacted is thereafter covered with soil to eliminate foul stench or fire outbreaks due to explosion of methane gases.
This can present unforeseen challenges.
"The biggest challenge we are now facing, particularly during this prolonged rainy season, is that our bulldozers get stuck in the mud and heaps of waste. We use black cotton soil to cover the compacted waste which results in the muddy condition,” Mr Lobikoki said.
Generally, constructing a landfill is a sensitive undertaking that calls for caution and expertise.
When constructing a landfill, a mass of soil which is excavated from the site is kept aside to be used in covering the compressed garbage.
Trees are also planted around the site to act as a buffer and also to purify the air.
Because the project involves burying waste, a synthetic liner is created on the floor of the excavated ground to collect leachate, the water that seeps from garbage.
The leachate is then discharged into an artificial wetland through underground pipes.
The liquid evaporates and what remains is taken back into the cells to aid decomposition.
There are many risks and health concerns that come with such a project, such as underground water pollution.
But while the Tanzanian authorities said they are yet to encounter any disasters, they have put up a list of mechanisms to check against any such challenges.
“We have two deep boreholes, inside and outside the site, for monitoring water quality which is done weekly, monthly and quarterly,” Mr Tenga E.M.J., an environmental health officer in charge of Murriet Landfill laboratory, said.
“This helps us in finding out any pollution incidents of the ground water or penetration of liquid wastes into the underground.”
According to him, once the landfill reaches its full capacity, it can be turned into a recreation park.
Locals living around Murriet landfill told the Saturday Nation that the project has opened up the remote Murriet area for development and has also created jobs for young people.
Shija Saidi, who trades in discarded plastic bottles, said the landfill environment is better to work in compared to the open dumpsite.
Another waste picker only identified as Omar said: “Initially, there were concerns about health risks of the landfill but since I started working here two years ago, I haven’t noticed anything hazardous.”