Who would have thought that dealing with rubbish could make you rich? For enterprising Kenyan Richard Kamiri, who started with a single pick up truck and big plans, it has done just that, reports Cosmas Butunyi
For many Kenyans, garbage is nothing but an eyesore – a reason to rant and rave on social media or to anyone who’ll listen about poor service delivery. But that certainly isn’t the case for Richard Kamiri, who runs Three Bin Services, a garbage collection firm. To him rubbish is big business. It is a lucrative opportunity for enterprising Kenyans to make a difference – and some money at the same time.
According to a survey conducted in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania by research firm Frost & Sullivan, the value of the solid waste management market in these three countries was estimated at US$32.9 million in 2008, and this value is expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of seven per cent by 2015. Kenya arguably accounts for a significant portion of this market. Riding on a population spike and accompanied by rapid urbanisation (Nairobi today is home to over three million people), coupled with the inability of local authorities to manage solid waste effectively, Richard’s business is thriving.
The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), a government agency responsible for the supervision and coordination of all matters relating to the environment, lists 19 firms as waste handlers in Nairobi alone, backing up the local authority that lacks the capacity to collect waste from across the city.
Richard’s company, Three Bin Services, is one of these firms. Its specialty is the collection and disposal of hazardous waste from factories in the city’s industrial area. This includes expired pharmaceuticals and other chemicals. In addition to this, he is also involved in providing cleaning services, collection and disposal of sanitary towels, and landscaping.
He has been involved in the business since 2007, having been attracted to this unusual area when he graduated from college. He joined a group of four other entrepreneurs involved in waste management to collect garbage in Nairobi West and Nairobi’s residential areas, dumping it at a central place before passing it on to the Nairobi City Council for disposal.
Over time, the five entrepreneurs went their separate ways, but their departure marked the birth of Richard’s own firm, Three Bin Services. Using his brother’s vehicle logbook as collateral, he sought a bank loan and acquired his first pick up for transporting garbage.
It was around this time that he spotted a business opportunity in the city’s industrial area and snapped it up. It is estimated that about 25% of waste generated in Nairobi is industrial.
Richard later sold his pick up and acquired his first truck. However, he retained his clients in residential areas, helping them to dispose of their waste.
In the beginning he organised all this from home, but later, as the business grew, he set up an office in the industrial area and then, two years ago, moved into a bigger one. He now has four trucks and employs 20 young people.
Ironically, even as he reaps his reward from helping to smarten up Nairobi and its environs, Richard still wishes for a cleaner city. This has seen him join up with other waste management entrepreneurs to form a lobby group. Going forward, they hope that the Nairobi County Government will devote effort towards securing a dumpsite for the city. At the moment it depends purely on the Dandora dumpsite. With any luck that won’t always be the case.
Two other initiatives that are cleaning up our communities
Green Bag Lady
A 23-year-old Kenyan student has won an international youth award from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) for her initiative in which plastic bags are turned into clothing, accessories and housewares. Mwanyuma Hope Mugambi, who reads Environmental Studies and Community Development at Kenyatta University in Mombasa, was concerned about the environmental, healthy and biodiversity hazards caused by discarded polythene bags. So she set up an initiative in which local women are trained to sew laptop cases, purses, shopping bags and table mats from bags collected from around the community. In addition to expanding the skills of the women, sales support their income and the neighbourhood is kept tidier. Mugambi was one of three winners honoured at the Bayer Young Environmental Envoy Programme.
In high-density slums like Kibera, waste management is difficult, seldom provided and really important. To meet the challenge, bicycles are being used to provide a localised, small-scale service to collect rubbish at a cost of just Ksh20. Coordinated by Worldbike, a non-profit organisation that designs and promotes load-carrying bicycles, the local Soweto Youth Group and UN-HABITAT generates very small profits from the scheme. Worldbike project manager Andrew Hall describes their goals as “income generation, livelihood creation and essential service provision, but usually in the model they go hand in hand”.
Operating conditions are very difficult, and in some areas which are still not serviceable even by bicycle, residents are encouraged to take their packaging and other solid waste to nearby collection centres, where they are paid a small fee. The scheme is proving beneficial in areas such as Naivasha. Small-scale, low cost, eco-friendly enterprises that can twin income-generation and ecological management, like those Worldbike is piloting, offer some hope that rapid growth in unplanned urban populations doesn’t have to overwhelm the ecological sustainability of the 21st-century city.