How cities can become waste wise

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Walking through some streets in Kenya can make you turn your nose involuntary. Unfortunately, this is not all streets in Kenya but a majority of them. County governments are doing a good job but they could do way better.

A long while back, the banks of Nairobi River were clean. The water was brown with no toxins whatsoever. The Late John Michuki did a great job by restoring Nairobi River back to life that even the lungfish thrived in the waters if only for a second. Today, the Nairobi River is toxic filled. One cannot even think of accidentally falling inside. When it rains, foam forms in specific sections suggesting the presence of impurities that definitely do not belong in a water source.

We can do better. We can have clean path ways. A clean river. A clean city. Whether it’s the largely populated cities of Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu, or small towns like Garissa, Embu or Voi. Nairobi, with a population of close to 4 Million people can be a good example to all other cities in Kenya. Kisumu itself is but much underrated.

Globally, 0.8 kilograms of waste is produced by every person. The amount of total waste generated is expected to triple to 5.9 billion tons a year by 2025. By 2050, 70% of the global population will live in cities. 60% of new urban settlements are yet to be built, representing a huge opportunity for building sustainable cities. This is not only attributed to the expected increase in the human population but also due to increased consumption and ineffective management strategies.

Consumerism can be the death of us but also we can choose to rise above and develop better, sustainable, and an all-inclusive sustainable consumer culture.

Breaking free from plastics

Plastic pollution is a major contributor to waste. Single-use plastics top the list. We are not aware of the fact that when we use a plastic straw, or disposable cutlery we will soon dispose of it and jump on to the next one. This, in turn, fills our streets and end up in our water ways. We tend to think, ‘Well, the county government will take it to the landfill.’ Yet we do not stop to wonder what happens when the landfill gets full or many people are disposing of the same products.

Reduction, re-use and responsible consumption

To break free from our wasteful consumer habits, we need to think about what we use and how it will affect our planet. It does not matter whether it’s that disposable cup. Imagine 10,000 people using disposable cups. That is 10,000 cups floating in our waterways or pilling up in landfills.

Compound every single item that you know will be a waste product in as much as 1 Million people who will use the product. Think of ways you can reuse, repurpose or even find an alternative. Be responsible with your waste no matter how small. Monitor everything.

Lobbying governments and companies

From Bidco to Coca-Cola to Cadburys to Nestle to Maybelline. There are many companies that use single-use plastics. They are responsible for the waste that occurs after consumption of the product. If not building their own recycling plant, they could support recycling companies or start-ups. Companies could also do a better Corporate Social Responsibility other than planting trees. They could even reward consumers who dispose of their products well or even innovate. The best will be allowing consumers to deposit their empty plastic container at designated areas.

Governments are accountable. They are responsible for undertaking proper assessments. They should plan where and how waste is going to be disposed. For county governments, they are to be propelled to collect waste more frequently and encourage people to separate their waste by providing different bins. Governements can also prevent waste piling up in landfills and develop proper waste management strategies.

Support the green economy

In Osaka, Japan, instead of dumping waste in landfills, much of the waste is burned in high – tech plants that use the heat to produce electricity for households as well as municipal water. Alappuzha, India has a decentralized waste management system which separates biodegrable waste at the ward level, treats it in small composting plants and provides many of residents with biogas for cooking. Other countries such as Sweden and Switzerland are recycling all their waste from plastic to metal to food waste.

This is the next economy – green bonds. An economy that realizes we are moving towards sustainable ways of living. We can turn food waste into fertilizers, plastics into poles, benches, pathways and even roads. There is no limit to what the human brain can create. We have both the ability to create and destroy. When we choose to be responsible for our actions, we can create a better world for all human and non – human beings.

It starts with me.

It begins with you.

It is up to all of us to be able to achieve sustainable and resilient cities – waste wise cities.

Featured image credit.

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Vicki Wangui
Vicki Wangui
Vicki Wangui is a believer in all things beautiful. A believer in spreading information in regards to environmental awareness. A believer in sharing all that is good in Kenya's natural world. A believer in speaking truth with no boundaries. Do you have a story, photo, experience or message you need to share? Send your work to

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