Our Environmental Consciousness Is Worryingly Low

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Brian Okoth opines that the Environmental Consciousness amongst Kenyans is on a nosedive and offers solutions on what needs to be done to reverse the trend.


You have probably witnessed, or even are guilty of, dumping of litter through the window of the car, bus or whatever mode of transport you have used, or in undesignated places. I happen to witness this annoying habit every time I travel over long distance. At times I helplessly watch the indiscretion and silently curse concealing my indignation and on rare occasions when I man up, I reprimand the offender.

Growing up in Nairobi in the 90s and early 2000s, it was an offence to even spit on the streets. There were repositories for cigarette butts alongside the dust bins and the thought of being spotted littering by officers of the defunct Nairobi City Council was dreaded as it would attract instant arrests and unplanned appointment with City Council Magistrates which only ended in one way, hefty fines. Fast forward 2019; one can easily dump litter without guilt and fear of being reprimanded.

The backstreets of Nairobi and major towns are replete with litter strewn all over the streets. Major highways and roads have not been spared either. For instance, if you are a frequent user of Nairobi’s Outering Road like me, you will see mounds of garbage by the road side. In worst cases, the drainage have been used as receptacles of garbage or dumpsites with dire environmental consequences. These have been manifested when it floods during light showers. Due to the blockage of drainage, water overflows into the roads hence the flooding. In addition to odour, the strewn litter has visual impacts, what is referred to in common parlance as an “eye sore”.

The road side vendors and eateries have been accused of improperly dumping their wastes in undesignated places and roadsides thus compounding the solid waste challenge. At the household level, there is poor handling of waste including lack of segregation, reuse, reduce and recycling. Those of you who live in flats may have noticed your neighbors throw litter through their balconies usually into the adjacent flat. This is not only improper but unethical. Imagine how you would feel if your neighbor continuously dumps his/her refuse in your space. A friend of mine once asked me, “why is it that people don’t randomly throw litter in their houses and can’t tolerate the sight of litter in their compounds but find it easy to discard that bottle, wrapper or peelings into the streets once consuming the contents of the bottle or wrapper?” You, the culprit can help me answer that.

All the above illustrations are pointers to low levels of environmental consciousness among Kenyans. With increased urbanization due to rural urban migration, increase in population and changes in lifestyles, solid waste generation is sure to rise to monumental proportions if not addressed. So what are the possible remedies?


3R (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) model

This is the traditional waste management model that advocates for reducing, reusing and recycling of wastes. The 3R has since been upgraded to 6R i.e. Reduce, Rethink, Refuse, Reuse, Recycle and Recover. In essence, before you discard that bottle consider reusing it. I have seen people using bottles used to buy vegetable oil used to store water once the vegetable oil runs out. Before you buy something, think if you really need it. Before you discard something, if you can’t reuse it in its entirety, can you at least recover some useful parts of it? So on and so forth.

Investment in Solid waste through increased budget allocation

Solid waste management is a function of the county governments. The Draft Sustainable Waste Management Bill, 2019 obligates the County Governments to mainstream waste management into County Planning and Budgeting. Solid waste investments could be both in personnel and infrastructure. Various youth groups in different estates could be contracted to regularly clean up the neighborhoods and properly dispose of the waste in designated areas. The County Governments could also erect dust bins along the roads and waste receptacles in designated areas where the waste could be collected regularly. Another infrastructure for the counties to invest in is material recovery facilities. The function of material recovery facility would be to receive mixed waste for final sorting, segregation, composting, and recycling and the resulting residual wastes shall be transferred to a long-term storage or disposal facility or sanitary landfill.

Private Public Partnerships (PPP)

Given that the county’s budget allocations are usually not adequate, the Counties could embrace a Private Public Partnerships (PPP) arrangement and in what is a usually a mutual beneficial arrangement. The PPP arrangements are guided by the Private Public Partnerships Act, 2013. Common PPP arrangements include Output Performance-based contract where the private party is responsible for the operation, maintenance and management of an infrastructure facility for a specified period of time not exceeding ten years and the contracting authority retains ownership of the facility and capital assets. In the case of Build Operate Own Transfer, the private party designs, constructs, finances, operates and maintains an infrastructure facility owned by the private party for a specified time period not exceeding thirty years, or such longer period as may be agreed, after which the private party transfers the facility to the contracting authority. Other PPP arrangements include; Management Contract, Concession, Lease, Build Own Operate and Build Own Transfer (BOT). It is advisable that one should consider the merits of any of the PPP arrangements before settling on it.


Singapore and even nearer home Ethiopia, has embraced technology as a solution to the menace of solid waste management. The most important thing is minimizing environmental pollution by embracing modern technology that meets international standards. Two possible technologies in solid waste management include Anaerobic Digestion and Incineration. The Sustainable Waste Management Bill, 2019 proposes facilitation of waste to energy and manure projects. The government should therefore introduce incentives for imported sustainable waste management equipment and materials, including equipment for recycling, composting, transporting and waste-compacting, besides incentives to expand investment in material recovery and recycling facilities.


Ignorance remains one of the biggest threats to environmental conservation. There is need for massive awareness campaigns against poor solid waste disposal and habits. Members of the public at large and all stakeholders including traders in local markets, youth and women groups, national and county administrations, informal waste management dealers and private companies should be involved. The message of 6Rs, the importance of conserving our environment, alongside the need to separate waste at source and proper disposal should be emphasized. Waste Management conversations should begin at the household level and be made habitual.

Enforcement of laws

The Sustainable Waste Management Bill, 2019 advocates for penalties that can be meted on entities that poorly dispose off wastes contrary to its provisions. Fines range from US$ 500 – US$ 2,000 and a jail term of between 6 to 12 months. The Bill further proposes waste recovery and recycling facilities and sanitary landfills for secure final disposal of non-recoverable waste. These should be adhered to, to ensure effective solid waste management.

Leverage on economies of scale

The draft Sustainable Waste Management Bill, 2019 encourages Counties to, for reasons of benefits from economies of scale, to cluster into metropolises and pool resources for more effective waste management and designate at least twenty acres of land, in one or more lots that will be gazetted as waste management sites.

You are your Environment!

Brian Okoth, is an Environmental Governance Specialist

Twitter: @KerOkoth

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Duncan Otieno

Our Environmental Consciousness Is Worryingly Low

Brian Okoth opines that the Environmental Consciousness amongst Kenyans is on a nosedive and offers solutions on what needs to be done to reverse the trend. **************** You have probably

2 thoughts on “Our Environmental Consciousness Is Worryingly Low”

  1. Good write up and clear well put out thoughts , keep it up . I would add innovation to technology aspect , we ought to encourage local innovations solutions and government support for SMEs more so in the waste management sector who are in most cases bearers to these innovative ideas.

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