Waste piles up in Central as locals oppose landfills in their backyards

County governments in central Kenya are grappling with how to manage garbage collection as they run out of areas to set up new landfills.

Land scarcity means that county officials are facing resistance from residents who don’t want waste management facilities in their backyards.

Much of the conflict stems from the fact that residents in urban centres desperately want to get rid of tonnes of garbage, but much of the available space is at the doorsteps of rural dwellers whose waste footprint is much smaller.

In Murang’a County, garbage collection in major towns is at a near standstill after work at the Mitumbiri landfill in Gikono village was halted due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The project faced stiff resistance from leaders and residents of Maragua constituency last year, who claimed the landfill would pose a health hazard to locals. Construction was aborted but the government later pushed on with work that was set to be completed in March and has since been pushed to this month.

This means that 144 market centres are struggling to manage heaps of garbage that have become an eyesore.

Environment and Natural Resources Executive Cecilia Kibe said the landfill, which is being built with support from the World Bank, would solve the waste management problem.

“In Murang’a we do not have specialised vehicles to transport waste; instead we use ordinary trucks. We have a budget to get the best trucks to transport waste from the markets to the landfill,” added Kibe.

The county government set aside Sh16 million in this year’s budget for waste collection, with Sh10 million to be used to buy garbage trucks. The rest of the money will be used to build dumpsites and purchase waste collection equipment.

County Chamber of Commerce and Industry chairman Festus Kamau said there is need for innovations to deal with the waste. “There is a cry from traders over heaps of garbage in their operating areas.”

In Meru County, matters took a violent turn after residents of Nkunga village engaged in running battles with county askaris over a decision to relocate a dumpsite from the edge of Imenti Forest on the Meru-Nanyuki highway.

Angry locals pelted the officials with stones during the protest, saying they did not want the stinking waste near their homes, schools, churches and water sources.

But the government had the last laugh after it strong-armed the locals, who now have to live with a foul smell and smoke from the burning waste. Officials said the decision was prompted by lack of space to dump tonnes of solid refuse from Meru, Nkubu, Maua and other towns.

“The government relocated the site from an area with elephants and other wildlife after the Kenya Wildlife Service protested. I don’t know who told the government that elephants’ safety is more important than our health,” said Michael Mutuma, a resident.

Miraa waste

Environmentalists and residents of Murera near the Meru National Park have also protested the location of a nearby dumpsite.

County Wildlife, Environment and Natural Resources Chief Officer Lawrence Mwebia yesterday said they had taken steps to deal with it.

Mwebia said the county dumps solid waste from the major towns at three locations – Nkunga, Murera and Muungu. The county, he added, had also bought a skip loader for easier waste disposal.

“The skip loader has assisted a lot especially in Maua where there is a lot of waste from miraa. It is faster in loading and disposal. We are periodically compacting and graveling the dumpsites, and spraying to rid them of flies,” Mwebia said.

In Nyeri County, solid waste management has been a headache after the county government rehabilitated a dumpsite at the Asian Quarters to construct a Sh600 million bus terminus.

“Nyeri Town constituency is the most affected after we converted the dumpsite into a bus stage,” said Governor Mutahi Kahiga, adding that Mukurwe-ini and Tetu are among the sub-counties that lack dump sites.

The county generates about 150 tonnes of waste daily. More than 50 per cent of the waste collected is organic matter that can be turned into manure and used to boost food production.

In this year’s budget, the county allocated Sh10 million for solid waste management and to buy 15 skip bins, and an additional Sh10.5 million to construct 10 waste receptacles and for dumpsite management.

Attempts to identify ideal garbage disposal sites in different parts of the county have failed after protests by residents and political leaders.

Ward representatives are now touting privatisation of garbage collection as the magic bullet that will help clean up some of the worst affected towns like King’ong’o, Kamakwa and Ruring’u.

When officials identified a potential dumpsite in Nyaribo, Kenya Civil Aviation Authority Director General Charity Musila wrote a letter to the county government warning of possible disruption of flights at a nearby airstrip.

“It is important to note that dumpsites attract a variety of wildlife especially scavenger birds, which are a hazard to aircraft operations,” said Musila.

The county is now collecting trash from the worst-hit areas and transporting it to the Karindundu and Gikeu dumpsites in Mathira and Othaya.

The governor said his administration plans to buy 30 acres to set up a landfill, subject to approval by the National Environment Management Authority (Nema).

Reclaim quarries

“We cannot continue living in an era where we think dumping is the answer to the garbage menace. We have to think of landfills where we can deposit the organic waste and cover it with soil.”

Kahiga said they were also deliberating on reclaiming abandoned quarries and converting them into landfills. “Someone from Nyaribo said he received a letter from Nema because he abandoned a quarry on his land, which was dangerous to the community. We could think of such suggestions.”

The governor also moved to address environmentalists’ concerns on proper waste management. “We will need to start segregating waste at source for easier handling and sorting for recycling.” Most dumpsites are magnets for recyclers who collect plastic papers, bottles, metal and electronics for resale.

“We have allocated about Sh20 million in this financial year to purchase land for landfilling, but the bigger picture is creating a sorting line for recycling. We will have sorting stations within the sites,” said Kahiga.

In Laikipia County, Environment Executive Njenga Kahiro said it was important to sensitise the public on the 3Rs of waste management – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

“It is a message that needs to be told across the country. We need to manage waste at source so that we don’t have to deal with a double mess. It is easier to handle waste when it is separated at source,” said Kahiro.

The county set aside Sh19.2 million this financial year for waste management.

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