Circular Economy: A climate action aligned approach to Sustainable Waste Management in Nairobi

Published: 21 Jun 2023
Adaptation Mitigation
Circular Economy: A climate action aligned approach to Sustainable Waste Management in Nairobi

The responsibility to effectively manage waste is a major challenge to many cities. Like most cities, Nairobi has faced many challenges in transforming its waste management system. The city currently produces an estimated 2.3 million tonnes of waste daily. With an expanding population putting pressure on the current system, it is becoming harder to manage the growing waste volumes using linear waste management solutions for collection and disposal. The effects of an under-resourced waste management system have led to broader impacts on climate, including high levels of methane produced from the composting of waste disposed of at landfill sites, and emissions from waste incineration.

The Nairobi City County and Kenyan Government have taken actions to resolve this through long term plans which aim to transition the current linear waste management approach to one that adopts circular economy and zero waste principles. Examples include the 2019 ban on single use plastics and the adoption of a circular economy to address waste management.
Earlier this year, The CoM SSA Secretariat Technical Helpdesk, held a workshop with various government and non-government stakeholders in order to review and enhance the Nairobi City County Sustainable Waste Management Action Plan. This workshop aimed to bolster the circular economy approach already laid out in the Action Plan and ensure its alignment with Nairobi's Climate Action Plan which makes provisions for climate-proof waste management.
During the workshop, the CoM SSA Secretariat brought together officials and various waste management champions and stakeholders from Nairobi to engage in discussions around the current status quo of waste management in the county. This was a great opportunity to bring together stakeholders from around the city working within the county government, as well as non-government actors who are active in waste management-related projects and activities.

The Action Plan calls for a transition from linear to circular waste management. The circular economy provides an alternative framework for managing waste which can transform the city as they work towards a clean and healthy environment. Circular economy principles encourage a shift from linear systems where resources are extracted, turned into products for consumption, and eliminated as waste. This approach encourages the elimination of waste by encouraging the sustainable extraction of materials through rethinking the models of production we employ, planning and designing for the end-of-life of products, reducing material extraction, adopting the use of regenerative materials, and encouraging the reuse and recovery of those already in circulation.
For the county, implementing source separation and investing in material recovery facilities are priority strategies to support the circular transition, but resolving the waste management challenge in Nairobi cannot be achieved by the waste management department or the environment directorate alone. It requires action and intervention from all stakeholders within the county to work towards a systems approach to transforming waste management.
As one walks through parts of Nairobi, it is evident that the County has made strides in making their city clean. The 2019 Kenyan government ban on single-use plastics is evidence of the importance of transformative and forward-thinking policies rooted in practical action - if we ban single-use plastics, we encourage a major shift in the production of reusable, recyclable and regenerative packaging solutions while creating awareness for alternative packaging options for everyday consumers. If we separate waste for recycling, we initiate a circular transition where materials that are no longer of use to one consumer can be returned to the value chain and given new life and function.
This workshop highlighted the need to have multi-level governance in order to align government practices, policy, and legislation on waste management, particularly collection and disposal activities. This creates opportunities for cost savings in revenue from reduced waste volumes and new job opportunities across value chains in the circular economy. The circular economy approach to waste management offers mitigation solutions to climate change by diverting waste from landfill sites and eliminating activities such as open dumping and burning, which lead to less pollution, fewer CO2 emissions, and a reduction in waste volumes.
As the Nairobi City County Government embarks on this new phase of action, it is hoped that the circular economy approach leads to a meaningful impact in transforming the city, how waste is managed, and furthermore how goods and services are produced and consumed. The action plan seeks to set the foundation for better waste practices, not only within the department, but the wider Nairobi, and Kenya at large.

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