January 22, 2024

Building a Comprehensive and Sustainable Waste Management and Recycling System in Nairobi


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Nairobi is confronted with a pressing plastic waste issue: a lack of incinerators, an overwhelmed licensed dumpsite, a proliferation of unlicensed dumpsites, and an unreliable waste collection service, virtually no access to waste management in informal settlements, which are prevalent in Nairobi.

This predicament not only jeopardizes public health but also contributes to climate change and tarnishes the visual appeal of the city. While a patchwork of formal and informal recyclers and waste managers offers an alternative to landfilling, the informal workforce faces harsh conditions, lack of recognition, harassment, and unfair market access, hindering the potential prosperity of these workers and the positive impacts of recycling on the economy, society, and the environment.

In this against this background that a group of more than 30 stakeholders across the value chain have come together to create Tabo Mabo Program (Taka bora – Maisha bora). Translating to better waste – better life. Tabo Mabo intends to create a stakeholder-encompassing, membership-based network. The network will facilitate direct business relations between the members, benefiting all parties by reducing current system inefficiencies and new business opportunities. The network also offers services with a heightened focus on currently underserved core workers such as waste pickers.  Nairobi has a vibrant ecosystem of informal, transitional and formal waste management and recycling workers and entrepreneurs. This network builds on this ecosystem.

However, gaps in the ecosystem remain, especially in underserved communities or stakeholder groups. Therefore, Tabo Mabo is working to establish critical infrastructure elements such as:

  • Household collection in informal settlements to reduce the direct effects of waste on community and environmental health
  • A professional Material Recovery Facility to retrieve the most value of the collected waste and limit the amount directed to dumpsites.
  • Waste bank at the Mukuru informal settlement dumpsite, offering fair and transparent prices for material and additional services to the core waste workers
  • A mini-bank to provide access to small-scale funding to entrepreneurs who are usually excluded from formal banking processes or subject to high-interest-rate microfinancing.

During the workshop, the group quantified its objectives, structured around the Prosperity Model developed by the Insitute for Global Prosperity at UCL (University College London), and detailed the implementation plan.

As Kenya undergoes a regulatory turning point in waste management with the translation of the Sustainable Waste Management Act into concrete policies, including Extended Producer Responsibility, tabo is positioned to contribute practically to implementation and inform policies, especially regarding the inclusion of informal waste and recycling players

In the spirit of community ownership, Latewa Arts CBO was entrusted with the network management and facilitation of tabo mabo. Latewa is a Nairobi-based CBO focusing on waste management and the rights of marginalized groups in the community. Based on Latewa’s excellent track record and the increasing focus on natural capital and related aspects of prosperity at SBS, Latewa  and SBS will be collaborating closely in the future.

Tabo mabo resulted from Alina Marm’s PhD research at UCL supervised by Prof. Jacqueline McGlade, a senior Faculty member at Strathmore University Business School.

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