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The debate over the garbage menace in Nairobi made news this week thanks to an interesting piece on KTN by Alex Chamwada. #NrbGarbageDebate was the top trending topic on twitter for the better part of Sunday evening till Monday night. This was quite unusual but, timely considering how Kenyans rarely talk about the environment on social media. Reading through some of the tweets, it was interesting to know the perspectives Nairobians hold regarding environmental cleanliness.

The Outcry

First, I realized there is a public outcry that Nairobi is dirty. There is no doubt about that. Nairobi is very dirty and in fact, if you take a walk down town you will meet abandoned heaps and heaps of garbage. I think if there is an area that the NCC needs to put in most of their waste management weight, irrespective of whatever partnership they get into with private companies, is the CBD. During the Obama and Pope visits, down town including the area around Muthurwa market was sparkling clean with the NCC getting all the credit. I do not see why they should relax their muscles now. They are the ones to give account to us and not the private companies. Luckily, the National Youth Service has shed some hope on this dirty picture by launching cleanup exercises that will see the garbage heaps in the CBD cleared.

For most Nairobians, our frustration is that we pay taxes to receive services from both the national and county government but sometimes our expectations are not met. This gives us a right to complain, especially when we see obvious neglect by the people bearing the heaviest chunk of responsibility.

The Way forward

1. Change in attitude

A section of Nairobians shared an interesting perspective. They realize that this war cannot be solely won by the leadership of the city. It needs an unstoppable movement to rapidly gain pace like in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But for this movement to rise, attitudes and behaviors have to change. One thing I have come to understand over the years is that sustained change begins with change in behavior, and psychologists will tell you that this change can only be realized with a shift in perception. Sometimes we may blame the leadership and fail to understand that they are only a mirror of what we are. We Nairobians have a role to play in keeping this city clean. If you see Nairobi as your home or your house, you will own it and see the need to keep it orderly.

2. Mandatory cleanups

A few other Nairobians were very practical about this problem. They tweeted interesting ideas which they believe will bring the litter and garbage problem to an end. Nairobi senator, Mike Sonko’s tweet really caught my attention. I think his perspective is something that both the National and county government should take seriously. Rwanda is doing it and they have achieved great success implementing mandatory monthly cleanups. If we want to change people’s attitude on a large scale, mandatory cleanups is the direction to follow.

3. Banning plastic bags

Someone else tweeted about banning plastic bags. Plastic bags are a real menace and I throw my weight behind such an idea. If you’ve ever been keen, you probably have noticed that most littered wastes are plastic bags, and the reason is that most of us use these bags for less than 20 minutes before discarding them. Your butcher will pack you meat in a plastic bag. Your sugarcane vendor will nicely peel the cane for you, chop it into small manageable pieces and pack the pieces in a plastic bag. Your shop attendant and grocery lady will do the same thing. Supermarkets are no exception. But the fact still remains that once you unpack your shopping, you will immediately get rid of the bags. Where you discard them may not matter and that’s why we see them all over. If Kenya ever passes such a law, I think it would be a huge leap towards making this city clean. Again, Rwanda does it and they have achieved great success in implementing it. We just need to learn from them.

4. Recycling

It also goes without saying that we are wasting our chance to really make use of garbage through recycling. In the last installation of Alex Chamwada’s report, recycling of waste was his solution. Turn the trash into cash. It may not be easy but we need to start thinking along these lines. Separating waste is simple. We all can do it with the right awareness and infrastructure.

The big pivot

In reality, we are still a long way from dealing with this challenge. Before we get to where Norway or other developed countries are, it might take time. You can imagine cutting short the life of plastic bag market without letting it to organically die. It would be painful. But all we need to advance is to mean business. We need leaders to realize that it is the view and aspiration of every citizen to meet the global sustainable goals, in which the environment is well covered. The passion and grit that Kenyans have in making their voice heard and being the change they want to see should not stop. We need laws created and implemented to maintain the dignity of our city and country. We need to grow the movement of clean freaks. As we have clicked over to 2016, let’s gear up to own our city and make cleanliness a reality.

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January 6, 2016

Interesting analysis


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