Why Kenya needs to Consider Effective Solid Waste Management as a Climate Change Solution

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Brian Okoth looks at possible ways in which solid waste can be used as a climate change solution in Kenya.


Climate change is recognized as one of the global challenges of the 21st century. It is for this reason that world leaders through wide negotiations and consultations via the United Nations came up with the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals (in particular, SDG 13 on Climate Action). Prior to that, there was the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) upon which the Paris Agreement, and its protocol, the Kyoto Protocol is anchored.

The developing countries bear the hugest brunt of climate change due to their vulnerability occasioned by reliance on climate dependent economic activities such as agriculture and low adaptive capacity due to lack of modern technology and finance. The Paris Agreement, overwhelmingly adopted by members in 2015, provides commitments that member states can take to limit an increase of global temperatures beyond 1.5°C of preindustrial levels. Rise in global temperatures is attributed to trapped greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere through anthropogenic activities.

No shortage of policy

Kenya has no shortage of climate policy and legislative framework. As a response to the provisions of UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement, the Government of Kenya enacted the Climate Change Act, No 11 of 2016. The Act is meant to, inter alia, provide a regulatory framework for enhanced response to climate change, and mechanisms and measures to transition to low carbon climate resilient development. The Act also provides for the National Climate Change Action Plan (NCCAP), which is a five year plan to guide Kenya’s climate change actions, including the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The first NCCAP covered the years 2013 – 2017 while the second NCCAP which was prepared and adopted in 2018 covers the period 2018 – 2022. One of the priority action areas of the NCCAP 2018-2022 is a climate-resilient solid waste management. NCCAP recognizes that the waste sector contributes to climate change, accounting for about 3% of total national GHG emissions in 2015. This may be perceived to be a minor contributor compared to sectors such as forestry and energy and agriculture but solving the emissions from solid waste challenge has co-benefits such as creation of employment opportunities, reduction of wastes in the environment and a cleaner environment.

The counties also identified climate change actions to reduce GHG emissions in the area of waste management such as waste to energy, capture of methane from landfill sites, and promotion of a circular economy approach to waste management, which encourages recycling and re-use.

Waste to Energy as a Climate Solution

Waste to energy solutions are noted for their triple benefits of energy generation, solid waste minimization and creation of employment opportunities along the solid waste value chain. There exists waste to energy solutions such as gasification, pyrolysis, incineration and anaerobic digestion but for purposes of this article we will focus on incineration and anaerobic digestion.

Incineration means the controlled burning of solids, liquids, gaseous combustible waste to produce gases and residues containing little or no combustible materials. It is normally at extremely high temperatures. Incineration is common in Europe but Africa with the exception of Ethiopia is yet to adopt it.

Ethiopia’s waste to energy plant named “Reppie” and constructed near Koshe, Ethiopia’s largest dumpsite, began operations in January 2018. At full capacity, it processes over 1,400 tons of waste every day, roughly 80 per cent of the city’s rubbish at a temperature of up to 1,800 degrees Celsius and produces over 185,000,000 KWh of electricity per annum to the Ethiopian national grid. The electricity generated serves 30 percent of Ethiopia’s household electricity needs. Other benefits include reduction in release of methane, a major greenhouse gas and employment of 1300 Ethiopians and 286 expatriates. Modern gas treatment technology reduces the release of toxins during the process thereby meeting European standards on air emissions. However, incineration is a carbon positive technology.

On the other hand, anaerobic digestion (AD) produces methane-rich biogas that can then be fed directly into a purpose-built reciprocating gas engine to generate electricity or used for heating water or direct use of the biogas (typically in a ‘fuel-switch’ set up). As a waste-to-energy solution, AD has generally offered a public favour as a biomass solution as opposed to incineration. AD is carbon negative and has other benefits such as a nutrient rich digestate that can be used as an organic manure.

Co-benefits of waste to energy include achievement of sustainable development, green growth and resource efficiency. The Government of Kenya could also reduce GHG emission of 0.45 MtCO2e by 2022, through sustainable briquettes and charcoal production, industrial energy efficiency, and industrial symbiosis.

There is value in solid waste!

Brian Okoth, is a Research and Policy Analyst,Sentao Kenya.


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2 thoughts on “Why Kenya needs to Consider Effective Solid Waste Management as a Climate Change Solution”

  1. Billy M. Lombe

    Thanks for the well articulated thoughts Brian. However I have would have loved to see your article explore the challenges of Incinerator facilities all over the world.
    I usually try to refrain from recognising incineration facilities as options for reducing on emissions from waste management.
    We should now be wary of increasing proposals of waste-to-energy projects in Africa. Wastes are not a renewable resource. The global north are phasing out waste incinerators because of pollution issues, high economic investments, and lack of successful waste incinerator projects in the past. Building WTE incinerators goes against waste reduction and segregation.
    Check out the link below on why Incinerator facilities are not WTE facilities. I had worked closely with Environmental Justice Network on such projects.


  2. Brian,
    Billy has made some useful comments here. Find time and go through the link he shared.
    Kudos for the piece

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