Making cash from trash and keeping hoods clean

Tuesday, December 1st, 2020 00:00 |
Obunga residents participate in a community clean up exercise. Photo/PD/NOVEN OWITI

Solid waste management has been a major challenge in Kisumu county over the years even as the county government seeks to put in place workable interventions.

Against this background, a group of waste handlers in Obunga, an informal settlement in the lakeside city, has taken it upon itself to promote this initiative by regularly collecting garbage in neighbourhoods.

Before the group started out,  waste management in the slum was unheard of, a situation which predisposed residents to health hazards.

Not only did they not have toilets and sewers, they also had to grapple with poor drainage, which turned the whole area into an eye sore.

“We used to have a filthy environment here in Obunga, but with such interventions, we now boast of a clean and healthy environment,” said Roseline Olilo, chairperson of Obunga Residents Association.

Door to door campaign

Their intervention involves the use of handcarts to collect the garbage from various households and dispose it at the main Kachok dumpsite, located a few miles away. They collect the garbage for a small fee on a daily basis.

Olilo says the drive, which started in 2016, has seen massive improvement of the slum’s sanitation.

Residents also do voluntary community cleanup twice a week and regular hygiene sensitisation.

“We started off with door to door campaigns, where the locals were sensitised on the importance of better waste management practice and the health benefit attached to it,” she said.

Isaiah Odhiambo, the pioneer of Jamis Taka investment, says garbage collection in Obunga area is not only an environmental conservation programme but also a source of income for youths who could otherwise have been jobless

“To us garbage collection agenda is a Godsend opportunity. It has become a gamechanger to the entire community,” said Odhiambo.

From stigma to respect

Odhiambo, a form four leaver, earns averagely Sh16,000 monthly from the venture, which he landed in 2015.

On average each household pays him between Sh30 and Sh50 every collection, depending on the amount of waste.

Odhiambo’s group has engaged about 20 youths who help in routine garbage collection.

On a busy day, the group working three days a week collects garbage from 150 households in the area.

“At first, we were stigmatised for the kind of work we do, but with time things have changed.

We have now earned respect from the community based on the improved sanitation they see,” adds Odhiambo.

The entrepreneur points out transportation logistics and lack of protective gears as key challenges affecting their work.

“We are sometimes forced to use our bare hands in collecting garbage and this exposes us to a lot of risks,” he says.

He urges the county government to set up a strategic point for collection and segregation of solid waste.

Phanice Awuor, 25, a graduate from Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology is also making a living from the dustbin.

Upon graduating with diploma in business management in 2017, she resorted to join garbage collection business after unsuccessful search for a white collar job.

Years later, garbage collection work has become her stable source of income. She takes home about Sh18, 000 on a good month.

Awuor does the work individually, but has also formed a self-help group, the Obunga Community Based Organisation, comprising four members that has been handling waste management for the last two years. 

“I identified the problem in our community and after soul searching decided to go into waste collection.

We had a filthy surrounding where litter was spread all over and drainage channels remained clogged with waste,” Awuor recalls.

She collects garbage from about 190 households, which is loaded to a county government truck that passes by at the end of every week. 

“Our work is well choreographed, we supply the bags to our clients and do a follow-up to collect the waste.

This has contributed to a positive impact on the community in terms of sanitation,” states Awuor. She charges Sh50 -Sh100 per household.

Lack of funds

Statistics from the Kisumu directorate of Environment, Climate Change and Natural Resources indicate that the county generates between 400 and 500 tonnes of waste daily, with organic waste constituting about 63 per cent of the total waste composition.

Kennedy K’Oyoo, a director at the department, says they are keen on working with the established community waste actors towards realising the dream of having a clean city.

 “The garbage collectors play a key role in keeping the town clean. As a department we have managed to address issues of waste management by engaging their services,” says K’Oyoo.

 He points out inadequate waste bins, pick-up and transfer stations, negative attitude towards waste and little funding to the docket as challenges hampering proper waste management.

He also cites inadequate recycling initiatives, infiltration of the trade by illegal waste actors and poorly equipped waste handlers as other bottlenecks.

“It is high time environment issues like waste management get enough funding. Every citizen is legally entitled to live in a clean and safe environment,” explained K’Oyoo.

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