More than takataka

In Nairobi’s Dandora estate, juxtaposed against the squeals of children playing at a nursery school, business owners displaying their wares and the hum of daily life, is the infamous dumpsite where most of Nairobi’s solid waste ends up, a sprawling 43-hectare landfill that was declared filled to capacity two decades ago.

Despite repeated attempts to close it, the dumpsite remains open for business, playing host each day to numerous privately-owned garbage trucks whose only job is to collect waste from homes, offices and learning institutions; and dump it in the landfill.

The dumpsite has become emblematic of Nairobi’s waste problem. Long referred to as “the green city in the sun”, Kenya’s capital has all but lost the precious tag, and is today in danger of choking on its own waste. Rapid growth has increased the city’s population to an estimated 3.5 million, and with no corresponding investment in the collection and management of waste, up to 66 per cent of Nairobi’s inhabitants cannot afford to dispose of and manage their waste.

The result: a landscape dotted with mounds of garbage of varying sizes, and millions of city inhabitants living in constant danger of contracting disease.

While the county government weighs various options to deal with the garbage menace, including compacting waste to create space for more disposals, and the proposed construction of a 40-MW per hour methane-powered energy generating plant at Dandora, the less than utopian reality has birthed a business opportunity for one firm: TakaTaka Solutions.

Founded seven years ago, TakaTaka Solutions targets waste producers across all income areas. The company uses an end-to-end value chain model that begins with door-to-door waste collection, sorting at its sites in Banana and Kangemi, before ending with the production of various waste-to-value products such as compost and recyclables.

Its founder, Daniel Paffenholz, believes in the power of the circular economy, a modern approach to waste management that according to Wikipedia seeks to reduce waste, emissions and leakages by employing long-lasting design, maintenance, repair, reuse, remanufacturing, refurbishing, recycling, and upcycling.

It’s a concept that is gradually being embraced by homes and businesses, including Safaricom, which is working with TakaTaka Solutions to help it realise its commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The partnership, which was initiated at a meeting at the offices of the Kenya Private Sector Alliance in Nairobi last year, has seen Safaricom recycle more than 95% of its waste.

“It was a conversation so both parties kind of initiated it,” says Daniel, adding: “Both companies realized that we had a common objective, which was to deal with waste in an environment-friendly way. That’s how TakaTaka Solutions was given the job of managing the waste generated by Safaricom.”

As part of the partnership, Safaricom offices now have waste segregation bin comes with three compartments labelled food waste, paper and plastic. The operating concept is that the waste is pre-sorted by Safaricom staff then collected by TakaTaka Solutions, before it is sorted further and weighed. 95 per cent of the waste is recycled or composted, and the company provides a monthly report for the tracking of data.

The bins are currently at 11 of Safaricom’s premises within Nairobi, with the plan being to roll out to 35 more within the next few months, and eventually to all Safaricom shops and offices next year. This will increase the amount of solid waste available to TakaTaka Solutions for recycling and bring Safaricom a step closer to achieving SDG 12 on Responsible Consumption and Production.

“It’s a big project for us to be involved in,” says Daniel. “Obviously, Safaricom is a great brand to work with and everyone knows it so people say: ‘If you guys are able to work with Safaricom and they are happy, you must be doing a good job. So it definitely works for us!”

Besides enhancing Safaricom’s waste management efforts, the partnership is also encouraging both companies to become more innovative, supporting an internal campaign that seeks to get staff to reduce the use of single-use plastics and embrace a plastic-free life (or as close to that as possible), which began in June this year.

“With Safaricom’s high expectations on separation, recycling and reporting, we have been pushed to become better at providing practical suggestions on how non-recyclable items can be replaced with recyclable ones”, says Daniel.

As Safaricom increases its efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle more, TakaTaka Solutions has proposed a raft of recommendations that include switching from single-use cutlery and other plastics in the staff cafeteria, reviewing the use of Styrofoam, which cannot be easily recycled to other material, and moving towards more environment-friendly packaging materials such as LPDE packaging foam, a low-density plastic that is easier to recycle.

“Our engagement with Safaricom goes beyond what we normally we do,” says Daniel.

According to a feature article published in the Daily Nation, TakaTaka collects about 40 tonnes of the solid waste generated in Nairobi each day. This represents around one per cent of the 4,000 tonnes of solid waste produced in the city daily, most of which ends up in Dandora. Of the waste materials that the company collects every day, 65 per cent is organicand can be turned into compost (organic fertilizer), which TakaTaka sells at KES 750 per 50-kilogram bag.

It’s not all about the money for TakaTaka Solutions, though.

“There is a common misconception that there is a lot of money to be made from waste management. However, in reality, you can’t always save money by managing waste. Proper waste management costs a lot of money if all processes and procedures are done in a sustainable and conscientious manner,” Daniel says.

As the company grows, it hopes to set up a third waste management site near Thogoto, Kiambu County. This will increase its capacity to turn the city’s garbage into wealth, providing more jobs for vulnerable youth living in lower income settlements by growing its workforce from the current 200.

In the process, TakaTaka will make another small but significant contribution towards reducing the burden of the Dandora dumpsite and by so doing, perhaps even provide a cleaner, healthier environment where the children of Dandora can play.

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