Sustainable Environment for Kenya’s Common Future: Solid Waste Management Perspective

By Anthony M. Wanjohi and Vincent O. Orioki::


The issue of sustainability has continued to occupy not only the minds of scholars but also development practitioners for a number of decades. However, every gain made towards attaining sustainability is threatened by various forces. This article, briefly examines the issue of environmental sustainability in Kenya’s solid waste management perspective. The first part of the article presents an overview of the concept of sustainability and further outlines various international conferences held in its name. The article further succinctly provides an overview of the solid waste issue with reference to Kenya before highlighting the aspect of solid waste management model. In conclusion, the article presents the Participatory Learning in Action (PLA) as an approach that can be adopted towards addressing the issue of solid waste for Kenya’s common future.

Keywords: sustainability, environmental sustainability, solid waste management model, Participatory Learning in Action (PLA)

The Concept of Sustainability

The concept of sustainability was made known and popularized by Brundtland Commission (a United Nations organization) in a report, Our Common Future. The commission defined the term as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

In the spirit of sustainability, United Nations conference on human environment, in 1972 gave birth to “Stockholm Declaration” with 26 principles. These principles acted as the reference point for subsequent developments in matters of protection and promotion of environment. Later in 1982 “Vienna Convention” (Austria) took place to strengthen the campaign for sustainability through prevention of ozone layer depletion.

Montreal protocol (Canada) followed in 1987. In this protocol the “World Commission on Environment and Development” produced a document called ” Caring for Earth: A Strategy for sustainable Living” which is popularly known as Brundtland Report. This report defined sustainable development as equity within a generation and equity between generations.

In 1992, United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) which is commonly known as “The Earth Summit” held at Rio de Janeiro brought with it a new global commitment to sustainable development. It emphasized the interconnectedness of human activity and the environment.

An Overview of Solid Waste Issue

The issue of Solid Waste continues to threaten every positive gain made towards attaining sustainable environment. By the year 2012, there were about 3 billion urban residents in the world generating about 1.2 kg of solid waste per person per day (1.3 billion tonnes per year). By 2025, it is estimated that there will be about 4.3 billion urban residents in the world generating about 1.42 kg/capita/day of municipal solid waste which translates to 2.2 billion tonnes per year.  The problem of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) cuts across all nations in the world, but much more felt in developing countries like Kenya due to lack of sound solid waste management systems. The city of Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, with a population of more than 3 million people, is a centre of industry, education and culture. It hosts over 25 per cent of Kenya’s urban population. Its uncontrolled growth, just like many other cities in developing countries has put pressure on the neighbouring towns including but not limited to Ongata Rongai, Kiserian, Ngong, Kitengela in Kajiado County among others in Greater Nairobi Region.  This article briefly explores the issue of environment in the light of solid waste and its management for Kenya’s common future.

Solid Waste Management Model

Solid waste predominantly includes food wastes, market wastes, yard wastes, plastic wastes and product packaging materials, and other miscellaneous solid wastes from residential, commercial, institutional, and industrial sources[1]. Solid wastes are broadly classified into organic wastes, papers, plastics and other miscellaneous wastes including metals and glasses. Waste management on the other hand relates to materials produced by human activity, and the process generally undertaken to reduce their effect on health, the environment or aesthetics. Solid Waste Hierarchy Model remains the most general and widely used concept in solid waste management. It is built on “3 Rs” meaning Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

waste-hierarchy-2008This approach classifies waste management strategies according to their desirability in terms of waste minimization. The waste hierarchy remains the cornerstone of most waste minimization strategies. The aim of the waste hierarchy is to extract the maximum practical benefits from products and to

generate the minimum amount of waste. The ultimate and the most desirable approach to addressing the problem of solid waste is PREVENTION.

The single largest implementation challenge in solid waste remains creating sufficient capacity for environmentally sound management, including, where appropriate, recovery and recycling of various waste streams. The effort to effectively manage solid waste this is constrained not only by lack of adequate access to finance, technical know-how, lack of good governance and transparency but also legal framework implementation gaps and ‘rotten’ attitudes.

Lack of awareness and appreciation of the best practices for environmentally-sound management of wastes is a major constraint too. A paradigm shift among individuals and communities at large is needed – much more to remove garbage in today’s generation for tomorrow’s sustainability.

The Way Forward for Kenya’s Common Future

The way forward for attaining sustainable environment for Kenya’s common future lies in design and implementation of sound solid waste management framework which is well grounded on the tenets of Participatory Learning in Action (PLA). This approach promotes learning through action, accepts that no one is totally ignorant, accepts that anyone can learn and do, that no one has monopoly for learning; it challenges mindsets to build critical thinking, applies innovative approaches and methods of learning and doing things. Sustainable environment for our common future can be cultivated using the best practices of Participatory Learning in Action in which, the members of communities constitute the central unit; become agents or drivers of change since they have potential to learn.

PLA has the potential of re-awaking the energy of communities in drawing the road of today’s and tomorrow’s generations; it can help the communities to overcome care-free attitudes, biases, stereotypes, prejudice, professional bondage and apathy; it can offset development tourism and roadside analysis, help in overcoming hypothetical project planning, lay foundation for sustainability, build capacity for participation, promote open learning and broaden impact. Above all, this approach can create a sense of ownership and therefore brings about sustainability for Kenya’s common future.


[1] Environmental Protection Agency (2015). Non-hazardous Waste. Retrieved from