Nairobi may be clean in the CBD and in a few porsche estates but generally it is not anywhere close to being a sustainable city. Litter and waste materials are thrown almost everywhere in public spaces and streets. Efforts are being made on a daily basis to correct this, but the rate at which these efforts are made is way less than the rate at which waste is produced and discarded, making it only practical if we, Nairobians, begin to show concern for the waste we produce. More often than not, I tend to assume that we simply do not care, but maybe, it could be that most of us do not know how to keep our environment clean, and we need to be reminded constantly of what to do.
Sometimes back I read an article about The Ugly Indian (TUI), a movement of anonymous but self-motivated individuals who have taken it upon themselves to clean the streets of India without pointing blame fingers. These guys literary transform any ugly and dirty looking public space into something magical. They do not act self-righteous in any way, engage in moralizing conversations, or lay blames on the government for failing their part. They only identify a spot that needs to be fixed, come up with low cost but highly replicable ideas of fixing it, and then fix it.
Maybe we need the same kind of energy in Nairobi because I believe it goes a long way to inspire many people to do the same. We need people who do not hide behind social media making noise, but will be out there on the streets being the change they want to see. This is where you can come in if you are a highly motivated individual. There are numerous organizations where you can pour out that energy. Mazingira Safi Initiative (MSI) is just but an example. These organizations exist so you can meet like-minded individuals and put your energy and ideas to a more effective and impactful use.
Before we can begin to think of these highly motivated individuals who would freely volunteer to clear an illegal dumpsite, like the one in Guthurai Roundabout, without minding the mock of passers-by, there are many of us whose only source of motivation is money. We need to be paid first to show up in a community cleaning exercise or to mobilize people to fix a problem. Don't worry!! There's also a part you can contribute.
Many people are unaware of the unwritten rules. They do not see the problem the way you do. Therefore, be an ambassador. Take this as a commission to provide guidance to those who do not see the magnitude of this problem the way you do. I like what one individual volunteer of MSI once said,
“We need to be bold when you see someone litter. Gather confidence and tell them to pick it up".
This is practically what I mean, but of course you need to be nice and polite, not to stir up any emotions.
Being an ambassador could also mean making noise on social media and sharing with your networks environmentally resourceful content that they can benefit and learn from. It could further mean educating your kids and small siblings, teaching them to be responsible at home, in school, and in any other public spaces.
Remember this article I wrote sometime back, Think before you toss? Well, I tend to be inclined to the perception that we bring upon ourselves, not entirely, the many problems that we face. Every socioeconomic challenge linked to poor waste and litter management can be blamed on us when we liter. So, try as much as possible to throw away waste in a dustbin. You can hold on to dry solid waste (because it’s dry) until you are able to get rid of it in the right manner. You can also have a paper bag, not necessarily plastic, to keep wet waste such as fruit peels, until you are able to dispose it off in a dustbin. Remember dumping is dumb. Not only is dumping aesthetically unpleasing, it often attracts more dumping as the pile of rubbish grows and then becomes a hazard.
There is cash in trash. Ever heard of that saying? Apparently, it is true. There are companies reaping millions from recycling waste. I am not saying you get in the business of waste recycling, but maybe you could be wondering, what is my in role in this? How do I support recycling? Well, you could start thinking along the lines of waste segregation. Those clearly labeled litter bins in town for separating waste, don’t mix up waste in them. Put the right one in the right bin. A lot of the waste we produce, approximately up to 80%, can be transformed into something else for us to use rather than being left a menace to the environment.
Humans have a way of starting well but not finishing well. Very few finish well, many give up on the way. I have been to a number of cleanups, and it is demoralizing when after you sweep an entire street, a local resident fails to appreciate your effort and decides to litter right where you have swept. It will therefore take resilience and that is what will take you back to that same street the next time to clean it up, maybe set up dustbins, and teach people what to do and what not to do.
While Nairobians try to do all these on one hand, the government and other well abled institutions, on the other hand, are hopefully playing their part in putting systems in place that will see a lasting solution, because all these efforts have to be synergistic