Community-Based Waste Mangement for Environmental Management and Income Generation in Low-Income Areas


This study focuses on the problems and opportunities of community-based waste management in Nairobi, Kenya. Within several of the city’s informal settlements, women’s groups have started composting organic wastes as means of improving community environmental conditions and generating income through the sale of the compost. The central purpose of the study is to assess the success of these composting projects in meeting their environmental and community development goals. A complementary purpose of the study is to add to the limited amount of research on waste in East Africa.

The participatory research techniques employed in this study revealed that significant environmental improvements have been achieved through composting, including improved health, urban agriculture opportunities, better drainage and access within the communities, and the potential to address rural-urban imbalances in resource flows. The composting projects have, to date, been less successful in their goal of generating income. However, the research revealed that other aspects of community development are equally, if not more important, than income generation.

In terms of appropriate roles for NGOs, CBOs and local authorities, the research provides evidence that communities are more than willing to provide for themselves urban service like waste management when local authorities are unable to do so. In providing advice, training, and credit to these organizations, NGOs have an important role to play. The resources of local authorities are therefore best employed in regulating, coordinating and advising CBO and NGO efforts in the provision of urban services like waste management.

This research has also added to the limited information on waste management in East Africa, especially with regard to issues of gender, urban agriculture, and the most appropriate roles for all actors in the waste management sector.


1 Introduction

Given the environmental and financial opportunities and constraints identified through this study, what final assessment can be made of Nairobi’s efforts in community-based waste management? What are the most appropriate roles for actors in Nairobi’s waste management sector? What insights are provided by this research in terms of the relationship of gender to waste management, the need to promote urban agriculture and create demand for organic waste, and the environmental and health significance of solid waste management?

2 Summary of the Environmental, Income and Community Development Impacts of the Composting Projects

The composting groups have been highly successful in meeting the environmental objectives of their composting projects. While recognizing this success, the limitations of composting in terms of environmental management must be acknowledged. Composting does not have a direct impact on two of the most serious environmental problems of informal settlements: human waste disposal and poor housing. If composting eventually develops into a successful income generating project, households and communities will be financially empowered to make improvements in these areas.

The composting groups have not yet managed to generate substantial profits because of marketing and transportation constraints. When other community development-related advantages of composting are taken into account, it is evident that income generation is only one of many opportunities which motivate the women to participate. Equally important is the opportunity to exchange ideas and information with other members of the community. It is doubtful that composting will be sustainable unless it is able to meet more than just the environmental needs of the women and their communities. Those groups experiencing the most success and the most satisfaction with composting are those for whom composting has provided significant income, and those engaged in urban agriculture.

3 Appropriate Roles for Actors in the Waste Management Sector

From this study, several conclusions about the most appropriate roles for the various actors in Nairobi’s waste management sector can be drawn:

Local Authorities:

The primary role of the NCC should be that of advisor to the other actors in waste management. This would entail reducing the NCC’s role as a service provider to a minimum. The NCC should only be involved in the provision of services when it is not possible for the private or community sector to do so. The NCC Cleansing Section recognizes that this should be its role, but faces substantial barriers in its lack of administrative capacity and the lack of political will on the part of city councillors.

The Informal Sector:

There is a need to improve employment conditions as well as access to support services and markets of recycling industries for those who deal in waste picking. In doing so, however, there is a risk of formalizing the sector. This would have the effect of alienating the very people who rely on the sector for their livelihoods.

As noted by Odegi-Awuondo (1994), waste picking is already a highly organized activity consisting of networks of waste pickers and middlemen. Thus, a plausible option for improving the conditions in the informal waste economy could be cooperatives. This has worked in a number of Asian countries (UNCHS, 1993).

Community-Based Organizations:

Excellent opportunities exist for CBOs to provide a wide range of urban services, including waste management, in informal settlements. Because of its impact on community health, waste management fits well with the concerns of those groups dealing with issues of community concern. As for community members not directly active in the CBO, they need to participate in waste management by separating their wastes at source so that contamination is prevented and the work of CBOs and informal sector waste pickers is facilitated.

Non-Governmental Organizations:

NGOs are important links between local authorities and CBOs. They have a role to

play in providing technical advice and training to CBOs. They also have a city-wide role in educating and mobilizing broad-based support for community-based waste management. If such support is created, it should be instrumental in generating the political will needed to make the necessary changes.

In Nairobi, the NGOs have successfully educated and motivated the CBOs on the benefits and opportunities of composting. They are also attempting to build broad-based support for composting and recycling through the “Garbage is Money” poster campaign, along with continual participation in environmental and community events throughout the city. The NGOs could mobilize wider support, but they lack the financial and human resources to do so.

The NGOs have not been effective in providing the groups with the business and marketing skills they need to generate a profit through composting. The NGOs themselves need to develop these skills, or seek out other NGOs to provide this training on their behalf.

The Formal Private Sector:

The private sector does have an important, although limited role, to play in waste management in developing countries. In Nairobi, the private sector is an effective provider of waste management services to upper income businesses and residential areas. However, there is no bylaw enforcing those who can afford it to make use of these services. The NCC might consider implementing such a bylaw. Again, NGOs should initiate mass media and other types of educational campaigns to increase awareness about the hazards of unmanaged wastes, even in upper income areas.

Within informal settlements, the private sector cannot provide waste management services because of the inability of residents to pay for these services and the poor accessibility to these areas. Therefore, there is still a need for local authorities to work with CBOs in providing services to these areas.

The International Donor Community:

Many donor agencies already have extensive funding programs for NGOs in developing countries. The NGOs examined in this case study have received funding from the United Nations Environment Programme, several Scandinavian countries, and the Dutch government. This is an effective method of funding local environmental initiatives since the NGOs and CBOs are often closer to the people than governments, including local authorities.

At the same time, the international community must provide assistance to local authorities to improve their human resources and administrative and financial capacity. Investments in infrastructure and equipment will not be sustainable in the long term because local authorities lack maintenance capacity.

Finally, international organizations, with the full participation of NGOs and local authorities, should support the creation of a regional network which promotes waste recycling and reuse. Relationships between city planners, the private sector, NGOs, CBOs and recycling industries would be useful in sharing innovations and best practices in waste management. Such a network could also result in a powerful lobby.

The Research Agenda on Waste Management in East Africa

This study has contributed to an understanding of three aspects of solid waste management in sub-Saharan Africa: the relationship of gender to waste management, the need to promote urban agriculture and create demand for organic waste, and the environmental and health significance of solid waste management.

Waste management activities fit within the gender-assigned roles and responsibilities of women, including household maintenance, income generation and community management. When properly organized, composting provides women with the opportunity to stay close to their home or place of business so that they can engage in other activities related to their triple roles. However, many of the women who participated in this study complain that composting adds to their workload, or that other ventures suffered because of their work on the composting projects. Therefore, for many of the women, composting is not meeting their needs and is actually adding to their daily burden. For those groups generating high profits from composting, or those groups also engaging in urban agriculture, composting has improved their circumstances and opportunities.

The opportunity to engage in urban agriculture is therefore a very important determinant of the success of composting, Limited access to land, especially in informal settlements, makes urban agriculture a difficult strategy to promote for many of these women. There is a clear need for local authorities and NGOs to cooperate in providing access to land for these purposes. This has already worked for the Undugu Society in gaining plots for urban agriculture in Kibera and Kinyago. The other NGOs, FSDA and Uvumbuzi, should consider working with the NCC and the Undugu Society to provide this opportunity to other composting groups.

Even so, the application of compost in urban areas provides only a limited market for the compost, especially considering the amount of organic waste generated. Ideally, the composting groups could be doing very well if they had access to rural markets. The application of urban compost in rural areas could be a significant step in reducing the spread of Nairobi’s ecological footprint. These strategies rely not only on the support of rural farmers, but also on finding affordable means of transporting the waste and in creating the political will to support these initiatives.

The environmental importance of waste management has not been quantified in this study, but the anecdotal evidence reported by the women is sufficient to suggest that composting can have a significant impact in improving community health. In fact, many women continue to compost despite the limited financial opportunities it currently presents, suggesting that they are aware of and value the environmental improvements achieved through composting.

In conclusion, this study has demonstrated the important links that can be made between environmental management, income generation and community development. It has also identified waste management at the household and community level as a gendered activity. The success in composting in Nairobi has been achieved partially through the recognition of these roles and the targeting of appropriate community-based organizations. Ultimately, this study has shown that in order for community-based waste management to be a success, it must address more than the need for improved environmental management; it also must provide opportunities for income generation and the development of strong community bonds. Together with the support provided by NGOS, community-based waste management promotes internal solidarity around shared concerns, which in turn creates a momentum for demanding greater accountability of government and increased room for participatory decision-making. In Nairobi, we are witnessing the beginning of such a process as CBOs and NGOs unite to deal with urban environmental problems and poverty, and the NCC recognizes that it must radically transform its approach to urban service provision.

Table of Contents



Chapter One: Nairobi’s Urban Environment

1.1 Introduction
1.2 Geographical Context of the Project
1.3 Demographic, Social and Economic Context
1.4 Local Government in Nairobi and the Waste Management Situation

Chapter Two: Redressing the Urban Service Imbalance: The Role of the Community Sector in Waste and Environmental Management

2.1 Introduction

2.2 City-wide Community Efforts
2.4 Community-Based Organizations Involved in Composting
Figure 2.2 Kibera Location of Urban Agriculture Plots
Figure 2.3 Kitui-Pumwani Location of kinyago Village Urban Agriculture Plots
2.5 Environmental Benefits of Composting
2.6 Limitations of Composting as a Waste Management Strategy
2.7 Composting and Rural-Urban Linkages

Chapter Three: Community Development through Composting

3.1 Introduction
3.2 Amounts and Relative Importance of Income Generated
3.3 Constraints on Income Generation
3.4 Gender and Development Issues in Composting
3.5 Improving the Sustainability of Composting Projects

Chapter Four: Conclusions

4.1 Introduction
4.2 Summary of the Environmental, Income and Community Development Impacts of the Composting Projects
4.3 Appropriate Roles for Actors in the Waste Management Sector
4.4 The Research Agenda on Waste Management in East Africa

Appendix I: Photographic Essay of Community Waste Management in Nairobi