Disposal of diapers becoming headache for households in informal settlements

Community-based organizations in Kisumu recently protested against poor diaper disposal.

In Summary

• Residents claim the county has not come up with a solution on how to dispose of diapers.

• Recently, a section of community-based organizations in Kisumu took to the streets in protest against poor diaper disposal.

Diapers being picked activist in Kisumu Nyalenda area
Image: faith matete

The disposal of diapers in Kisumu is becoming a major headache for many households in informal settlements.

A lot of concerns have been raised by locals including environmentalists and human rights defenders. 

Residents claim the county has not come up with a solution on how to dispose of diapers.

Mark Oluoch, a caretaker in Nyalenda estate within Kisumu City’s informal settlements, has to collect and sort out garbage daily.

Each day, he makes sure that all the garbage collected from the eight houses are sorted before disposing of, burning or incinerating them.

Oluoch has to separate the diapers from the other mounds of garbage, collected from the estate he wants to burn.

But why the sorting? He says that the diapers don’t decompose and doesn’t burn well hence getting rid of them become difficult.

“Sometimes I am forced to take them to the collection point where the county trucks pick them,’’ he explains.

The disposal of diapers in Kisumu is becoming a major headache for many households in rural and urban centres.

This comes amid concerns raised by locals, environmentalists and human rights defenders on the diapers disposal menace.

The county authorities, Oluoch notes, has not yet come up with a solution yet on how to dispose of the refuse.

However, this is not the case for other caretakers who throw the diapers along the roads or in prohibited places at night because they cannot afford to transport the garbage to the main dumpsite.

Mary Onyango, from Nyamasaria a nursing mother of one, says on average, she can use a minimum of four diapers per day.

In the estate where she lives, there are four nursing mothers who have to contend with such disposal.

She says they were throwing the disposable diapers in pit latrines despite a warning by their landlords that the toilets were filling faster.

Onyango noted that caretakers and landlords have been reluctant to provide them with an environmentally friendly disposing method.

“Left without options, we pay some street boys to go and dispose of for us the diapers," she said.

Currently, there is competition in the diaper market with Kenyan mothers spoilt for choice as over 10 brands flood the supermarkets.

According to a 2012 report, Baby Diapers Market - Middle East, Africa, and India, Industry Scenario, Size, Share, Value Chain Analysis & Forecast, 2011-2017, out of the 700,000 babies born in Kenya every year, only four per cent use diapers but by 2013, the market for disposable diapers hit the 30 billion dollars (Sh 2.58 trillion)mark.

Diapers being collected in Kisumu Nyalenda by activist
Image: faith matete

In September this year, Kenya Environmental Action Network, in partnership with the Kisumu Environmental Champions, held the International Climate Strike in Kisumu to draw attention to historical injustices on the environment.

One of the organizers Kevin Mtai noted that baby diapers, which are non-biodegradable, often end up in rivers and later in freshwater lakes and harm aquatic life.

He called on the county government to wake up and address the matter.

Recently, a section of community-based organizations in Kisumu took to the streets in protest against poor diaper disposal.

This is after they picked over 3000 pieces from various disposals points within Nyalenda in sacks before dumping them on the roadside where the county does garbage collection.

The activist was from Nyalenda Social and Health Justice Centre, Kisumu Peace and Justice Centre, Chiga, Nyalenda and Katuoro Social Justice Centers.

Representing the Nyalenda Social and Health centre, Erick Okioma noted that diaper disposal is one of the major challenges in the informal settlement.

Many times the used material is washed down the streams to Lake Victoria leading to continuous pollution.

He noted that the diapers contain various chemicals and plastic linings when burnt.

“It generates fumes that are not good for human health and even in places where they are being disposed in landfills,’’ he said.

"If not correctly constructed, bacteria from faecal matter can leech into the groundwater and contaminate it."

He added, “If you look at half of the city, all the water/waste goes to River Auji, so if we expose things such as diapers carelessly when there are rains, it will sweep all that will end in the waterways”.

Okioma further noted that the fish breeding grounds have been interfered with while some fish are choked to death by the pollutants.

He further called on the county government to provide the residents with environmentally friendly diaper disposal methods to stop careless dumping of the waste material.

The diapers in sacks after being packed dumped along the road where the county garbage truck is set to pick
Image: faith matete

 The environmental watchdogs further called on the diaper manufacturers and the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) to involve the communities to curb the problem.

He says NEMA should engage the manufacturers on the appropriate diaper disposal methods before allowing them into the markets”.

“It is time the County government and NEMA gave us a clear procedure on how the baby material should be handled after use,” Okioma said.

He proposed that nursing mothers should be given bags for keeping the diapers and dumping them at the dumpsites, to reduce the mess.

“There is need for ecological literacy so that people can know that when they do not throw garbage well, it affects people” 


 Jessica Kahura a senior environment officer in Kisumu noted that diapers disposal is an issue becoming of great concern to the public.

“Going forward we need to come with an action plan together with the manufacturers how exactly we can be able to manage diapers that have already been used," said Kahura

This action plan, she said must be done by the county government considering that waste management is a devolved function.

NEMA being a supervisor in matters of environment can only be a partner with them in the diapers disposal system.

“This is in order to see on how this action plan can be developed and how it can be implemented even it is coming up with Kisumu County diapers disposal act,’’ Kahura asserted

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