Solid waste management is a fundamental prerequisite in ensuring sustainable environment. It is the collection, transportation, processing, recycling and/ or disposal of solid waste. Solid waste is the material arising from various human activities normally solids or semi-solids – considered as useless or unwanted. Waste generation rates vary according to: Geographical place, Season of the year, collection frequency, characteristic of the population and extent of salvaging.
Urbanization has transformed solid waste into a major public health and environmental concern in our urban areas. This is especially tough on the urban poor who are left to deal with waste disposal on their own. The lack of support in waste management has serious consequences on their health & on the urban environment.
To ensure sustainable environment and reduction of solid waste through source separation of the valuable material and recycling them, these communities are often forced to come up with ways of solving the waste problem.
Most municipal councils and city councils who are trusted with waste disposal in Kenya dispose their waste at a disposal site (usually former quarry pits). Waste is emptied into the pit without compaction.
Solid waste reclaimers have come in as a blessing. In Kenya, a few years ago it was not common to see waste reclaimers and waste pickers but today they are a big part of the waste management sector both in the residential areas and the cities.
However, little has been done to find various groups of Solid waste reclaimers and find the organizations working and supporting reclaimers & interviewing them on how they offer their support to the group members. There are plenty of Solid waste reclaimer organizations especially in the slums having the same goals of making the environment clean and organizations that support the reclaimer groups in the town ready to offer as much support as they can, but there is still a long way to go when it comes to Solid Waste Management in large scale.
The reclaimer groups are mostly in need of knowledge & skills concerned with solid waste, trainings, financially support, by-laws which will govern them, infrastructure, tool & equipment.
In a recent study in four major cities in Kenya the Municipal councils are supporting the reclaimer groups because they recognize that while they can only manage 20% of the solid waste, the reclaimers are managing 15% of solid waste without half as resources as the municipal councils. In Kisumu such as the relationship between the Municipal and the reclaimer groups is good because the give recognition letters & work permit to these groups and offer transportation of the waste from transfer point to the dumping site. They also give tools & equipments e.g. brooms, rakes, spades etc.
The need for sustainable and ecologically practical solutions to solid waste management cannot be overstated. This must be driven by local solutions such as would be found in a business approach to solid waste management. Everywhere one looks; we see models of local sanitation businesses. These efforts however do not seem to have managed to bridge the gap for financial services to these sector. As observed, local businesses are there but faced with many challenges ranging from poor infrastructure for waste disposal, negative public perception and little or minimal linkages with the major financiers mainly because these venture are either too localized or not commercially viable for large-scale financiers. Sustainable local solutions must not only positive attitude and supporting legislations but also local financing.
As viewed from the waste management research done recently by Ecotact and WIEGO, the waste reclaimers are often looked down upon as engaging in loathsome and dirty work, in business term this shunning away has not only been at community level but also by the financing institutions who perhaps do not see the profitable implication of a partnership with these waste collectors. Opening space for the entrepreneur to interact is therefore critical to opening up the local businesses to opportunities for financing.
Visibility of the local small and micro entrepreneur is compounded by the problem of lack of representation of this critical sector in the larger sanitation provision forum. Secondly, due to the often negative perception of the business, the entrepreneurs are not sufficiently empowered to discuss their business.
The high demand for the services of the waste managers is clear as seen in interviews of local waste pickers and organizations supporting them in Nairobi, Kisumu, Nakuru and Mombasa. From a livelihood perspective it is seen as a means of profitable employment that is able to sustain the needs of the entrepreneur, his employee(s) and families by extension.