Over the years, Kenyan policy makers have grappled with waste management, if at all, but our cities become dirtier and filthier.
The capital Nairobi contains the mother of all dirt. The environment in some parts of the city is just unbearable. You can’t tell Nairobi River, which flows right through the city centre, and sewage apart.
The state of cleanliness of a city speaks volumes on the happiness index of its dwellers — the cleaner it is, the happier the people and vice versa. Dirt is a sign of poverty and neglect. That’s why Muthaiga is cleaner than Mathare and Lavington than Kawangware, for instance.
We can take a leaf from Germany, which ranks among the best in waste management. With a population of 82 million, the world's fourth-largest economy's cities are remarkably clean. Cleanliness is a culture and source of income. Waste has created an industry that employs 200,000 people and brings in billions of euros.
Through cleanliness, the Germans express their love for the environment, civility and the country. In addition, there are robust laws and policies.
First, goods manufacturers and distributors in the European country have a responsibility of waste disposal and, therefore, are obligated to take back used packages. When you buy mineral water, you return the bottle to the supermarket and get paid for it.
Secondly, manufacturers bear the cost of disposing some goods that aren’t recyclable — by constructing landfills, treating trash and facilitating safe waste disposal. If we are going to create a welfare state, where everyone is treated with dignity whether you live in Dandora or Runda, then everybody must take responsibility for their actions.
Thirdly, Germany has invested on litter bins and every home has one, where they put their trash. The trash is then taken by the municipal authorities or Dual System Germany Ltd (which takes recyclable packaging back to their manufacturers).
Here, there are separate bins for paper (newspapers, flyers, cartons); recyclable material; organic waste; and any other waste (such as old cloths and shoes). With so many litter bins in the vicinity, it is hard to litter.
Mention waste management and Dandora dumpsite pops up. On July 24, 2013, the Embakasi North MP brought a motion on waste management. The MP warned that the dumpsite was a ticking time bomb.
In response, a series of events by the National Assembly’s Committee on Implementation followed. They included a site visit and a benchmarking trip to Japan on waste management that birthed a 23-page report that was shelved in the Parliament’s library. It has very good recommendations that no one cares to implement.
Between 2013 and 2017, several members of the county assembly have been on similar trips. Never mind that some of the MCAs also visited Japan!
Instead of expensive benchmarking trips to huge waste management plants, our leaders should begin by borrowing the little things that will have a tremendous impact. They can start by having enough litter bins in Nairobi.
Mr Wamere is a masters student at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy, Germany. [email protected]