Behaviour change key to managing waste

Wednesday March 18 2020

Traders operate next to uncollected garbage after heavy rains in Nairobi's Muthurwa market on April 17, 2018. PHOTO | ANTHONY OMUYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Let’s appreciate that littering is a major concern everywhere in Kenya — except in leafy neighbourhoods, where residents are keen to keep their environment clean.

However, I was recently impressed to see our President launching a clean-up in Nairobi. This was leadership demonstrated to sort out a menace that, if unchecked, will certainly lead to environmental degradation of unimaginable proportions in not only what was once the “Green City in the Sun” but all over the country.

Whenever I see litter on the road, especially in Nairobi, I am reminded of a comment made by a scholar from Sweden who was visiting the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research (IPAR), where I then worked as a policy analyst for the institute’s social sector. He was disappointed to see heaps of used polythene bags strewn around a famous hotel where we had gone for lunch.


Pointing to the mess around us, he remarked: “This is a reflection of a failure of an education system!”

Littering is attaining a national disaster status. There is evidence all over the country that people from all walks of life have issues keeping the environment clean. Garbage is found along major roads, homesteads and in public places.

Waste items ranging from empty plastic bottles, sweet wrappers, pieces of paper and metals are hurled out of moving or stationery vehicles of all kinds. Cumulatively, a lot of stuff is piling up on the streets of towns and markets, compounds and even classrooms of some educational institutions.

Officially, education is supposed to “promote positive attitudes towards good health and environmental protection”. The eighth National Goal of Education anticipates that, among other things, education should foster positive attitudes towards environmental development and conservation.


If this goal were met among the millions of children while going through our education system, especially while in pre- and primary school, by the time they are adults, it is highly unlikely that they will litter.

That a majority of Kenyans see no wrong in littering is an indication that they did not acquire the skills and habit of managing waste at a critical stage in life.

As garbage continues to pile, our leaders appear united in a clarion call — “Collect it”. This is simply acting on a symptom and not addressing the cause — most Kenyans have what I call “bad manners” of littering.


Education is expected to generate three important outcomes — knowledge, skills and appropriate attitudes (what I can loosely call “manners”). When a majority of Kenyans litter, even after attending schools, one can appreciate that they have not adequately benefitted from education; hence, the conclusion that, in that sense, Kenya’s education has failed.

What, then, should be done is not merely to collect garbage but apply a range of measures.

First, there is a need for carefully planned and executed programmes for “training” or “educating” people on how to manage waste. This can be done at home and in public institutions and through media platforms. This will, certainly, lead to behaviour change, which is a more sustainable solution to the issue of garbage.

Second, the National Environmental Management Authority (Nema) should be made more effective in its mandate. This calls for action by those in overseeing such agencies, including Parliament.


Third, there is a gap in enacting and/or enforcing relevant laws to control littering.

Fourth, local authorities, in collaboration with stakeholders, should adopt measures of separating garbage for ease of recycling and immediate use. This happens in Japanese and other modern cities

We need a multi-pronged approach to manage garbage so as to save our environment.

 Dr Riechi (PhD) is a senior lecturer, Department of Educational Administration & Planning, University of Nairobi. [email protected]