Kisumu Waste Pickers Welfare Association, (KIWAPWA) has initiated elaborate programs to achieve the zero waste environmental management cycle by creating awareness among the residents.
In a novel and bold approach with the County Government, Civil Society Organizations and learning institutions, KIWAPWA has been undertaking clean-up programs majorly targeting low-income areas, where most inhabitants cannot afford waste collection services.
John Chweya, the Chairman of KIWAPWA, said they have been at the forefront of managing waste in Kisumu City due to their big membership and sheer determination right from different constituency levels.
‘‘We have our members working at Kombewa, Holo, and Ahero and the majority are domiciled within the City owing to the huge population and that is where most waste is generated,” Chweya said.
KIWAPWA boasts of waste pickers who are professionals, some spurning over 40 years of experience and have been at the core of creating a better environment.
They also collaborate with primary schools to continuously spruce up estates and towns dotting the region through employing sound and sustainable solid waste management procedures.
The clean-up exercise, Chweya reveals, involves sorting, recycling and generally managing waste that is mostly collected from the streets, households, and industries.
‘‘You can imagine the number of plastics that will be polluting our environment if waste pickers fail to do collections for even a single day,’’ Chweya posed during an exclusive interview at the KNA offices.
The organisation has created direct and indirect jobs through its 128 Waste Picker Groups, which comprise Youth, Women, and Community Based Organizations (CBOs) whose main agenda is waste management or picking waste. They also have members who are just waste pickers from the streets but are not in any way formal.
Under the aegis of KIWAPWA, Chweya explained that they are currently trying to institutionalize the whole process of categorizing member groups to effectively align it with their core objective of safeguarding the waste picker’s welfare.
KIWAPWA has also been working closely with higher learning institutions by aiding Research Programs known as ‘‘Recycling Networks,’’ hosted at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University in Bondo Sub-county. It co-provided knowledge that also formed a very big part of the research findings.
Relatedly, they are planning a couple of Waste Management Teachings to impart knowledge to primary school-going children, and adequately engage with the community.
Chweya, who has been personally managing waste for 18 years, avers that, ‘‘environmental justice is a historic debt waste pickers have been earnestly doing for years even before it came to limelight on Climate Change and UNEA 5.2 Resolutions about Plastic Pollution.’’
UNEA-5.2 is a resolution to end plastic pollution made in Nairobi on 28 February-2 March 2022. The landmark endorsement seeks to address the full lifecycle of plastic from source to sea.
According to UNEP, plastic production has risen exponentially in the last decades and now amounts to some 400 million per ton per year-a figure set to double by 2040.
Chweya said one of their greatest achievements was to unite with one voice the waste pickers and this has enabled them to champion their welfare, and interests in their daily line of duty.
He cautions that most of the illegal dumpsites are being created in the informal settlements and this has emboldened them to train their focus on achieving a clean ecosystem in those areas.
He said that this birthed KIWAPWA’s formation to address their basic healthcare, education, social stigma, and security. He points out that the pickers belong to a social class that faces the most unprivileged situation in the country.
Highlighting some of the challenges they face, he pointed out the lack of PPEs, gumboots and gloves to protect them from constant injuries at the dumpsite as they carry out their duties.
‘‘One of the biggest problems waste pickers are having is that we do not have social medical covers to protect us from the plastic burns and smoke emissions that are normally in the dumpsite exposing them to health hazards and toxicity due to chemicals from industrial byproducts,’’ he said.
He revealed that at the national level, they are having a discussion to push for a just transition with the EPR Scheme producers like Coca-Cola and Nestle to compensate for having the products that they bring to the environment covered.
To augment their efforts, they recently passed the constitution for the Alliance of Waste Pickers Group, a global association which aims at uniting and offering a platform to share ideas among them.
He rooted for the Waste Pickers to be co-opted into the Policy-Making table and called for close collaboration between them to help in attaining a Safe Circular Economy on plastics management.
‘‘One of the most sustainable solid waste management procedures is through having the most qualified people to be the ones overseeing it,’’ he advised, while also noting that Waste Pickers possess good policies and ideologies that if well-implemented will lead to more tremendous success in the sector.
As the global community meets on COP 27 Edition in Egypt, and later Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee-IGNC- in Uruguay, Chweya stressed that it is very important to come up with policy-making processes that will reverse the consequences on vulnerable groups such as youth, women, farmers and indigenous communities.
By Rolex Omondi