Tapping youth innovation to manage waste

Unemployed creative young men and women can come up with creative approaches to handling trash

In Summary

• Waste management means accountability of all waste generated, appropriate disposal and where possible recycle for re-use. 

• There are already youthful waste management initiatives taking root in many communities, notably in Dandora, Nairobi. 


A woman carries waste from Dandora dumpsite
A woman carries waste from Dandora dumpsite

Across the world, youth innovations are driving significant change. In Kenya, inventions by young people have put us on the global map.

Roy Allela, 25, invented a Smart Hand Glove that converts sign language into audio speech. The invention, which won international accolades, was based on reducing the stigma associated with being deaf.

Another brilliant innovation was by Kelvin Gacheru. He developed Mobi-Water, a  smart solar-powered water system. It improves monitoring consistency in water supply and helps alleviate the water crisis.

Is it possible to apply youthful innovations to waste management? Today, the most visible environmental challenge is uncollected solid waste and particularly plastic bottles. A spot check across all major cities and towns reveals there is an increase in waste due to a rising population in urban areas, which have not established proper waste management mechanisms.

Waste management simply means accounting for all waste generated, appropriate disposal and where possible recycle for re-use. 

For instance, Nairobi produces more waste than it can dispose of in a   safe and environmentally sound manner. This necessitates a paradigm shift in thinking.

An assessment by Nema reported that traditional end-of-pipe solutions to waste management problems only deal with the symptoms of poor management and not the root cause. As a result, Nairobi and its environs are resigned to indiscriminate dumping and littering of solid waste.

To fully address this perennial issue, young, fresh and innovative waste management practices must be initiated and realised. To achieve the desired results, we need to provide support and develop policies that will encourage youths to aggressively venture into inventions.

In fact, there are already youthful waste management initiatives taking root in many communities. These initiatives are pulling together young men and women and tasking them to take responsibility for the cleanliness and well-being of their immediate environment. 

One initiative in Nairobi, particularly in Dandora, is the Customer Bora Programme. It brings together out-of-school youth in Dandora, which is among the most polluted by solid waste. They have an opportunity to be part of the much-needed change in their environment. 

The initiative spearheaded by Dandora HipHop City (DHC), in collaboration with the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, has set up multiple waste collection stations referred to as Taka Banks. There people can responsibly dispose of their waste for recycling. Further, this system also rewards depositors. 

In addition, the Changing Faces competition hosted by the Public Space Network has jolted young people to develop transformational waste management initiatives to improve the appearance of their neighbourhoods. This year alone, 136 groups submitted their designs in a nationwide competition. This clearly indicates that young people are taking charge of the environment.

Another initiative is PETCO Kenya. With more young people engaging in PET waste collection, PETCO Kenya ensures they have a formidable recycler, willing to purchase their waste volumes. In return, they increase their income.

As these initiatives scale up, the management efforts already in place will substantially increase and have the potential to be adopted nationally.

It is crucial that we continue to encourage young people to proactively practice waste management. It is necessary to achieve a change in a national perception towards a circular economy. 

The writer is the CEO of Kenya Association of Manufacturers and the UN Global Compact Representative for Kenya. She can be reached at [email protected]