This photo story describes aspects of research that was conducted within the UrbanCircle project between 2017 and 2022, with Naivasha, Kenya as one of the case study areas.
Using multiple methods from across the engineering and social sciences, the research in Naivasha focused on three objectives; to determine the quantitative potential for recovering resources from the city’s organic waste streams, to explore the governance conditions that can hinder or enable the implementation of resource recovery initiatives, and, assessing the sustainability implications of implementing resource recovery from organic waste streams at city scale (Ddiba 2022). The research was conducted in collaboration with Egerton University, Sanivation, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, and KWR Water Research Institute, with funding from the Swedish Research Council Formas, and from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), through core support to SEI.
In a dusty Naivasha neighbourhood east of Nairobi, Kenya, I meet James Kagwe, the visionary and director of Waste to Best Environmental Action, a community-based organization. He and his team collect, segregate and recycle waste. At a glance, Kagwe comes across as any other local inhabitant helping to clean up the town, but once you sit down with him, you quickly discard that initial assessment. He effortlessly explains the idea of resource recovery from waste with the aura of an expert. I follow the waste all the way from the households to the permaculture garden, where compost, one of the byproducts of segregated waste, is used and where Kagwe has become an unlikely supplier of organic green vegetables to tenants in exchange for their work in segregating waste.
Kagwe tells us that only 5% of collected waste goes to the landfill, demonstrating how waste can be transformed into resources and how a whole neighborhood benefits from his work. It is an arrangement that he finds works better than fining tenants who do not segregate their waste at slightly over $20. Kagwe and his group of young men and women are turning waste into a resource.
Recovering resources from urban organic waste streams can generate products such as compost, biogas and animal protein feed, which can contribute to food and energy security while connecting sanitation and waste management to a circular and bio-based economy.
However, people in many cities have insufficient knowledge about opportunities for resource recovery in their localities or even how to plan for and implement resource recovery initiatives.
Naivasha stakeholder workshop
In collaboration with Egerton University, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sanivation and NAWASSCOAL, SEI Research Associated Daniel Ddiba recently led a Naivasha stakeholder workshop as part of UrbanCircle-urban waste into circular economy benefits, a project that seeks to integrate waste management and resource recovery into a circular economy. The project highlights synergies between different waste and resource flows, focusing on water, waste, food and energy. The workshop convened more than 40 participants from a wide range of stakeholders linked to the sanitation and waste management system in Naivasha, Nakuru County to share preliminary results from the project, targeting which resource recovery opportunities are relevant and feasible for implementation in the sub-county and gathering stakeholders to discuss how they can get involved and contribute towards implementing resource recovery initiatives in Naivasha. The participants who attended the workshops in Naivasha and Nakuru are linked to the sanitation, waste management and natural resource management sectors, including public sector offices and authorities, the private sector, NGOs, community-based organizations (CBOs) and utility firms.
Speaking at the workshop, Prof. Bockline Bebe, Deputy Vice-Chancellor in the Division of Research and Extension at Egerton University, stated that the resource recovery project spoke to his heart as he has been involved in similar projects in Naivasha and Nakuru. He expressed the hope that workshop discussions would lead towards zero waste in Naivasha and Nakuru. He urged participants to work towards ensuring that the resource recovery products reach the intended users.
In a presentation at the workshop, Devota Mkanjala, a student at Egerton University, explained how a market-driven approach developed by Sandec-Eawag was used to identify resource recovery products with the highest market attractiveness. Mkanjala revealed that market volume trends and market growth are useful in identifying market attractiveness and hence comparing the viability of various resource recovery products. In essence, a market-driven approach identifies resource recovery products with the greatest potential to generate revenue and have sustainable value chains.
“In a market-driven approach, knowledge about products that can be substituted through resource recovery provides insights about the available market that resource recovery products can have in a specific area. Waste is only waste if you waste it.”
— Devota Mkanjala, Egerton University student
In another presentation, Lynnete Cheruiyot, also from Egerton University, delved into details about the resource recovery practices existing in Naivasha and how SEI’s REVAMP tool had been used to determine quantities of resources that can be recovered from the amounts of waste collected annually in the town.
Environmentally friendly transport
At Kagwe’s workplace in the estates, we catch up with three of the young men he employs to collect organic waste from residents’ homes. We meet camera- shy Johnson Njuguna and Jeff Njenga. Njuguna says he has been working with Kagwe for two years now and the job has helped him take care of his basic needs. Our conversation is repeatedly interrupted by a donkey that pulls a cart transporting organic waste that is loaded from bins placed at the gates of rental houses. Kagwe interjects occasionally reminding us that using a donkey to transport waste is an environment friendly intervention since it does not emit carbon and feeds on the organic waste it collects.
Njuguna and his two colleagues, one of whom says nothing throughout, work for half a day and are free to do other things. Do they have any challenges? Njenga adds quickly that they require gloves for work since the ones they have do not last long. Kagwe says the solution lies in having his outfit funded so that they can provide for themselves since it is unsustainable to continue asking for donations. Additionally, they need waste bins to enable their customers to segregate waste.
At the final dumping place for the waste, we reach the permaculture garden which Kagwe very proudly shows us around. We meet Mary Wahu sorting organic waste dumped in the middle of the plot of land with various waste mounds in different corners, including e-waste. Like Njenga and Njuguna, Wahu has worked here for two years and tells us that sorting and segregating waste is important so that each type of waste ends up where it is useful and those that are poisonous can be disposed of safely. She adds that working here has helped her earn money that she contributes to women’s groups. She says her biggest challenge is safe working gear, including gloves and gumboots.
At the dumpsite, two of Kagwe’s sons are busy working on waste. Joseph is an electrical engineering student at a local college, while his brother Lawrence is studying community development at St. Paul’s University. While Lawrence started helping during the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic as a way of helping his father establish the resource recovery centre, Joseph is keen to exploit his knowledge on e-waste to not only recycle, but also earn financially from them. Kagwe pointed out that he has encouraged them to undertake fields of study that can solve societal problems in local contexts.
He noted that segregating waste at the collection center is expensive, and he is working towards having the waste segregated at source, a move that requires investment, especially through the provision of bins for tenants. He added that payments from tenants for the collection of garbage has been inconsistent due to financial hardships from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Manufacturing briquettes from faecal sludge
Further east in Kenya’s newest city of Nakuru, we meet David Irungu, the general manager of NAWASSCOAL, a special purpose vehicle for Nakuru Water and Sanitation Services Company (NAWASSCO). Irungu is busy in his factory supervising staff who manufacture briquettes from faecal sludge collected from neighbouring estates.
On the way to the factory, which is situated in an area that the city county uses to discharge and treat waste near iconic Lake Nakuru, we drive by the neighbouring Kaptembwa informal settlement with Timothy Wanjohi, a low-income consumers officer at NAWASSCO. In one of the lavatories tucked against a ground-floor rental apartment, we meet Clementina Ojwang, a sanitation marketer at City Wide Sanitation Services, a CBO that works with NAWASSCO, wearing intimidating-looking red arm-length industrial gloves, yellow rubber industrial boots and a yellow helmet with NAWASSCO prominently emblazoned on the front. She is working with a group of men in yellow helmets who are busy scooping faecal sludge from latrines to pave way for mechanized removal.
NAWASSCO has trained this group and now engages them to undertake faecal sludge removal from numerous latrines that the tenants use across the settlement.
“Before, we used to 'dig and bury'. NAWASSCO came and trained us on how to retrieve the waste and transport it to the waste treatment plant.”
— Clementina Ojwang, sanitation marketer, City Wide Sanitation Services
By dig and bury, Clementin refers to removal of waste from a latrine, digging a pit and burying the waste.
Wanjohi tells us that their partnership with CBOs such as Clementine’s helped the county undertake the collection, transportation and safe disposal of sludge and its subsequent transformation into solid fuel briquettes.
Back at the NAWASSCOAL factory, Irungu explains that before the inception of the project, the waste used to end up in the neighbouring lake Nakuru during the rainy season. He also explains the process of receiving sludge and eventually turning it into briquettes for household use.
“When we get the sludge here, we make sure that it meets the end users' expectations if it is transformed into any useful products.”
— David Irungu, general manager, NAWASSCOAL
The briquettes that Irungu and his company manufacture are 50% human waste combined with 50% charcoal dust or carbonized sawdust. He adds that since this was initially waste and people did not know what to do with dry sludge, the remnants of sewage after the wastewater treated by NAWASSCO is discharged into the lake. Since they use primarily human waste, the level of chemical contaminants such as heavy metals is very low. Regarding the pathogens present in the waste, the sludge is first dried to remove moisture by laying it on drying beds before taking it through a carbonization process that involves burning the sludge in a controlled environment at around 400°C. Crucially, this step also eliminates the noxious gases, which is why the briquettes do not smell and are safe to use.
Out of curiosity, I ask why the briquettes are black in colour.
“They are laced with more carbon to make them more like conventional charcoal and that is where the black colour emanates from,” Irungu replies emphatically.
The project has created many jobs, Irungu adds, including waste transport and disposal personnel at the waste treatment plant, those employed at the factory he runs and once the packaging is completed, those who buy and sell at a profit in major towns.
One of the challenges he faced when he started was acquiring the technical equipment since at the time, they had to source from as far as China. Behavioural attitudes among customers about the safety of using human waste-derived briquettes was also another challenge that they previously faced, but Irungu says they have now largely overcome. NAWASSCOAL is grappling with marketing since it needs to upscale production to reach more areas, even though he emphasized that the market is still larger than what they can satisfy.
In his presentation during the SEI and Egerton University-led stakeholder workshop in Naivasha, Irungu explained that the reason for establishing the resource recovery factory emanated from the lack of proper sanitation. This caused faecal sludge in low-income areas of Nakuru to find its way into open drainage systems, which sometimes mixed with clean water systems, resulting in disease and other health challenges associated with the poor handling of sewage. Irungu said NAWASSCOAL closed the sanitation loop through the innovative development of different faecal sludge emptying, transportation and reuse technologies.
He added that MakaaDotcom, their brand of briquettes is now on the market and the factory currently produces 20 metric tons per month that are sold in Nakuru and its environs, with a plan to expand their market base.
According to Ddiba, UrbanCircle has provided insights on potential resource recovery scenarios for Naivasha while sharing the project’s interim findings in the stakeholder workshop. During the presentation, it became clear that there was sufficient public awareness, but relatively little urgency for action was noticeable among several stakeholders. The findings also showed that there is occasionally a disconnect between theoretical circular economy concepts and local resource recovery practices. It is apparent that there is a need for those with convening power to foster cross-sectoral learning and collaboration while defining public and private sector roles more clearly. Further empirical work to explore risks and benefit perceptions associated with resource recovery is needed, as is the need to translate local awareness into action.
“Implementing resource recovery requires change and systemic shifts in the way waste and resources are governed,” said Ddiba.
“Implementing resource recovery requires change and systemic shifts in the way waste and resources are governed.”
— Daniel Ddiba, SEI Research Associate
The workshop offered participants new insights into opportunities for the circular economy and resource recovery in Naivasha while giving them access to new tools and publications that are relevant for planning in their organizations. It also provided a chance for those present to network with each other, which could lead to potential future collaborations. For Naivasha, the workshop proceedings will provide input for planning and implementing resource recovery initiatives, with subsequent environmental, social and economic benefits for the sub-county.
The project has provided new knowledge and tools that cities can use to plan for and implement resource recovery initiatives through approaches in the assessment of waste stream supplies and the potential for resource recovery using the REVAMP tool, market assessment of resource recovery products in relation to substitute products using a market-driven approach and exploring their integration into planning processes and the collaboration between SEI and Egerton University among others.
“I came into this world not to earn an income, but to leave an impact,” Kagwe says as the sun dazzles in its dying moments before sinking into the horizon for the last time this day, leaving the iconic short and dry trees of Naivasha town looking like ghostly dwarfs.