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Nyeri group turns trash into cash

Given the foul smell that emanates from them, dumpsites are scarcely the right places to inspire business ideas or even employment opportunities, but that is not the case for a community-based organization in Konyu ward in Mathira, Nyeri County which is turning trash into cash.

Every day, the county government delivers about 100 tons of garbage to this dumpsite from the entire county. And as soon as the garbage truck leaves, the members of the Scavengers Self-Help Group roll up their sleeves to start their daily routine.

“Our main work is sorting garbage. We mostly look for recyclables such as polythene bags, glass in all its forms, cartons, and plastics. After sorting, we pack them and sell them to different factories in Nairobi’s Industrial area for recycling,” says Francis Muriithi, the chairman of the group.

Even though it may be hard to associate garbage with tidiness, the Karindundu dumpsite is perhaps one of the few dumpsites with some semblance of order. First, everyone who works at the site wears an apron.

Apart from the murram road leading to the site, the place has a perimeter fence whereas, the compound is dotted with trees.

On one far end just a few metres from the heap of biodegradable waste, are sorting bays where the different types of waste are placed after hours of sorting by the 30 members of this group. Muriithi says that they mostly earn a living from the sale of the items collected from the garbage.

“We make money from the sale of these recyclables. On average, each member takes home between Sh 500 to Sh 1000 in a day,” he says.

The group was established in 2015 when Muriithi and his colleagues decided to help keep their neighbourhood clean. He says that due to the lack of proper demarcation, garbage especially polythene bags would be blown into homesteads and that did not sit well with the residents.

“It was an unsightly scene and the stench did not make it any better. Initially, our work was bringing together the garbage that had found its way to the homesteads back to the dump site. In the process, we discovered that there were recyclable items that we could collect from the garbage heaps and sell to make money,” narrates Muriithi.

At the onset Muriithi admits they were still a bit skeptical about the new venture. He says that people who saw them rummaging through the trash did not treat them kindly. However, their noble idea would get validation when buyers came all the way from Nairobi with interest to purchase their entire stock of plastics which Muriithi says encouraged them to keep at it.

“We were even mistaken for thieves because the perception was only street urchins spend time in dumpsites. Also, it was hard to convince them that our business was legitimate as some did not understand how working in a dumpsite on a full-time basis would enable us comfortably provide for our families,” he says.

Work for the seven women and thirteen men of the group begins at 8 am in the morning and goes on until 5:30 pm like most businesses. So orderly is the site that garbage brought in on any given day never mixes with that brought in the previous day before it is thoroughly sorted. Muriithi says that on average, 20 lorries dock at the site.

“We have organized ourselves in such a manner that once a lorry offloads garbage, we swiftly sort through before the next one arrives. After seven years working on this site we have all mastered the art of spotting the different items that we need at a fast pace,” he says.

Their biggest challenge yet was the danger of picking infections and sustaining injuries in the course of their work. Muriithi says that as part of recognizing their work in waste management, the county government has since 2020 been providing them with protective gear which includes the aprons, gloves, gumboots and fork jembes as one of the measures of guarantee against  hazards.

Every piece of garbage that finds its way to the Karindundu dumpsite eventually ends up with a price tag. While the reusable materials have a ready market in Nairobi, the remaining biodegradable waste is sold to a local manufacturer, Biogas International, which uses the refuse in the manufacture of organic fertilizer and biogas. The little that is left is normally compressed by earth movers to create room for fresh garbage.

“Bio-degradable waste constitutes the biggest portion of what is brought here but we have been working with a local company that collects the biodegradable waste from us for the manufacture of organic fertilizer. In the end, the site gives a win-win situation for us and the county government because we help the county government manage the waste while we make a living from the waste,” says Muriithi.

By Wangari Mwangi and Rodah Ndirangu

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