Skip to main content
January 24, 2019

That Nail Polish Is Killing The Garbage Collector

Kenyans and perhaps Africans are quite sensitive about their culture and traditions. It does not take much to get us puffing out our chest to start talking about how life was perfect before colonisation.

Despite this pride we also absorb, sponge like, much of what the west has to offer. The interesting thing though is that it appears that we tend to pick the superficial end products but not the culture that produces these products.

This leads to an implausible situation where it seems that Kenyans believe that they can benefit from something without the pain that is associated with the use.

Within a few years of the motor vehicle being invented, it was realised that it could be used to dispose of waste especially in cities.

And so the first lorries were deployed to do this. Originally they were open topped lorries, but within a short time, people realised that they only did part of the job.

The foul smells, the waste that would fall out of the lorry as it moved around could occasionally create a bigger problem than the original one.

 And so covered vehicles became the norm for garbage collection. Two further big problems needed to be solved. The first was that lorries are quite high off the ground and so the men carrying the garbage into the truck needed to be very strong, lifting weights above should height every few metres.

 That was solved by having a bay built at almost ground level, which would then tip the garbage into the main compartment. The second problem was that waste especially household waste is often fairly bulky yet light and so would occupy a large volume for little weight.

And so garbage disposal trucks were developed with a compactor to compress the waste into a smaller volume. All this development was done more than 75 years ago in America and Europe.

 Yet in 2014, it is not uncommon in Kenya to see either lots of waste lying around, or open lorries carrying waste away, or and this is an improvement; the most disease looking, rust infested, diesel smoke belching covered lorry, open at the back carrying away your household waste dropping some here and there so that all are aware of just what is happening.

We may with indignation demand that something should be done about this! And it is heartening to see some counties like Nairobi buy proper waste disposal trucks. But the fundamental problem remains and it is important for everyone to understand what it is. A small example will illustrate the problem.

 Many women adore nail polish, the lacquer that is applied to finger or toe nails mainly for decorative purposes. Its use dates back more than 4000 years.

Early Chinese royal dynasties preferred gold and silver as the official nail polish colours, however with time red became the classier colour.

In Egypt in the same period the lower classes wore pale nail polish while the upper classes preferred bright red. Times have changed and nail polish technology has advanced.

Today nail polish consists of an organic polymer with various additives. The unfortunate thing is that some nail polishes contain chemicals that have been shown in larger concentrations to cause cancer in animals. Nail polish and nail polish remover are therefore among household waste that can be classified as hazardous.

 Other hazardous materials include paint, paint thinners, pesticides, motor oils such as brake fluid oil and so on. Often we use what we need, store the balance somewhere, then one day realise that we do not intend to use further the left over then throw them away.

How? Typically in a careless fashion oblivious that we are dealing with something that can be dangerous to our health when inhaled or absorbed thought the skin.

 What is a little nail polish left over in a small container, one might ask? But accumulate many small containers of nail polish or insecticide cans and you begin to have a problem. Pity the fellow hauling away the rubbish who can be injured from a fire, the fumes that come from an accumulation of such waste.

The origin of having bright coloured nails was to confirm to all that you did not perform manual work of any kind an idea which still holds true today.

But that is not all it means. Nail polish also represents a lifestyle that is environmentally unfriendly and unhealthy at a wider scale unless we recognise the true impact of what we are doing.

So as we commend those authorities investing in proper garbage disposal trucks we should also invest a little at home to protect our own families and make sure that the garbage we generate is safe for disposal.

Poll of the day