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April 12, 2013

Cleaning Up Nairobi's 'Takataka' Cheaply and Effectively

by Roopa Gogineni

Just one-third of Nairobi’s trash makes it to the single municipal dumpsite at Dandora.  The rest - solid waste of nearly 2.5 million residents - remains unaccounted for.  One social enterprise has developed an innovative waste-management model to encourage the recycling and composting of Nairobi’s trash.

In the Kangemi suburb of Nairobi, residents carefully avoid the piles of trash that have become permanent features of the city’s landscape. One social enterprise, Takataka Solutions, aims to change the terrain. 

Takataka, which means trash in Kiswahili, offers affordable waste collection services to Kangemi residents. Daniel Paffenholz founded the company in 2011.

"Legally speaking, in Nairobi the city council is supposed to provide waste management services for all residents.  That is about 3.5 million people.  Effectively the city has 8 trucks," he explained.

The limited capacity of the city to collect trash means that many private companies have filled in the gap.  But few of these serve lower income neighborhoods such as Kangemi.  Two thirds of the area’s 2,000 tons of waste remains uncollected.

"You can dump it in a river, you can burn it, you can bury it in the ground. You can pay someone to take it the next illegal dumpsite which is 100 meters away," Paffenholz said.

The environmental consequences of these practices are substantial.  Unregulated dumpsites contaminate ground water and burning trash produces harmful emissions.  Rivers clogged with waste become breeding grounds for malaria.

"We didn't have any place where you can throw the takataka, we just dispose them anywhere, anyhow, even on the roads," said Alex Cera, a Kangemi resident.

Cera now pays nearly $1 a month to have Takataka Solutions collect his trash.

At that price, Paffenholz estimates 90- 95 percent of households in Nairobi could afford waste collection.  

The challenge is convincing residents that it’s worth the money.

"They were used to not paying, they were using other ways to dump their waste.  Convincing them that it is important for you and the environment as a whole, sometimes it’s hard," stated Elizabeth Aluoch, Takataka salesperson.

The company asks its 6,000 clients to separate trash into three separate bins for organic, recyclable, and residual waste.  Paffenholz says this is difficult behavior to change, but fundamental to keeping costs down.

Eighty percent of collected waste is recycled or composted, minimizing the load sent to the municipal dump at Dandora.  Collection trucks charge between $100 and $200 for each trip.

The organic waste is handled at Takataka’s composting facility in Kangemi.

"We are processing 3-4 tons of organic waste a day.  There are no smells and no emissions," Paffenholz noted. "We are just 10 meters next to residential houses and there have been no problems whatsoever."

Takataka is now testing the resulting batches of fertilizer in farms upcountry.