Managing Behavioural Change One Dump at a Time

A few years ago, if you spoke about waste management to people living in low-income areas in Nairobi, their response would be simplistic – throwing anything and everything anywhere outside their homes. Overall in Kenya waste generation has been increasing aligned with its rapid urbanization. Urban Africa puts the amount of solid waste generated in Kenya every year at 4 million tonnes, and predicted that this will double by 2030. With very little awareness among local residents and lack of infrastructure from the public sector to run an effective, efficient and affordable waste management system, it was quite a messy situation literally in Nairobi. In 2011, a young university graduate launched TakaTaka Solutions with an aim to provide an ecological and reasonable solution that covers all income areas in the city. The founder Daniel Paffenholz stumbled upon the idea while he was back in Kenya after his studies. His family home in Nairobi had a waste management problem and Daniel could see the bigger challenge looming large on the residents of the city.

It was a free-for-all situation in Nairobi, and Daniel with big plans, very little money and a lot of enthusiasm knew he faced an uphill task. First was venturing into an unchartered territory of waste management, secondly to get residents to separate the waste and, third, to get them to pay for waste collection services. With a shoestring budget and next to no connections or networks in the city – how did he go about setting up his business? “As a start-up, if you don’t have a track record, getting any kind of funding and support is very difficult especially in the waste management sector which is highly dysfunctional in Kenya. There is a lot of waste generated which is not collected, there is no land, no municipal support, no government incentives the whole infrastructure as we see it in Europe just does not exist in Kenya.”

Compost sieving by TakaTaka Solutions’ staff. (Photo credit: TakaTaka Solutions)

But call it beginners luck or the determination of a social entrepreneur Daniel won an award at the onset of his journey. “I got lucky by winning an award as well as receiving support from the Siemens Stiftung at the onset. This gave a cushion to start things off,” recalls Daniel. While securing initial funding was a hurdle, the bigger challenge was to win the perception battle of Nairobi’s residents. Most people in the city’s low-income areas were used to dumping their waste – which, of course, is much cheaper than managing waste more responsibly. Daniel had to convince the waste producers that they needed to separate their waste in order to subsequently recycle and compost, moreover, this would come at an extra cost. The first layer of engineering behavioural change was to play around the immediate effect of having a much cleaner neighbourhood.

“For us, it was to see what level of service can people pay for and how reliably can waste be collected. Over a period we could sense that the people want more in terms of waste management and this was certainly a good thing. Some slum residents have become environment champions, but not all. It is a long-term intervention for many people to believe in a cleaner environment at a city-wide level”, shares Daniel.

Dwellers of Kangemi slum, one of the areas where they started their pilot project, have come a long way. As one resident says – “Before, waste collectors would come infrequently. TakaTaka Solutions offers comes twice a week, gives us sacks to store the waste and are overall very professional. It’s a good service.” In the seven years since Daniel started TakaTaka Solutions, he has seen both highs and lows. Highs included the Kenyan government’s intervention on the ban on plastic bags, which has helped bring more attention to TakaTaka Solutions’ work. But there have been lows particularly in terms of monetary and infrastructural support. However, as members of empowering people. Network, the enterprise received training and investment apart from the initial funding they received from Siemens Stiftung.

Clean-up in Thika supported by TakaTaka solutions. (Photo credit: TakaTaka Solutions)

With the support of Siemens Stiftung, we did waste separation training for our customers. The training happened two-folds, first, with our employees and volunteers who in turn trained the residents on separating their waste. The foundation invested in the physical infrastructure like providing for bins ensuring that they were the right kind and easy to use for residents. These bins were distributed in the areas from where we collect waste”, adds Daniel.

What started with 5-8 employees from the local community has now grown into Kenya’s largest waste service provider, collecting on an average 40 tons of waste every day. Today the enterprise is recycling and composting 95% of the collected waste. All the organic waste, 65%, is transformed into high-quality organic fertilizers. TakaTaka has 190 employees now, creating jobs for youth from lower-income areas and has gradually become the commercially viable solution to Kenya’s mass waste problem. The enterprise has scaled its scope from collecting waste from low-income areas – now it also collects from middle and high-income areas including office buildings, shopping malls, hotels, shops and restaurants. Rooted in the concept of social impact, Daniel believes that they are contributing towards a sustainable and ecological impact by treating waste whether it is collected from a slum or a high-rise restaurant. “In Nairobi, we are competing for each building; the city alone produces 4,000 tons of waste in a day. Other players in this business only collect waste and then dispose off at a landfill. That is not solving the problem. Our plan over the next few months is to get other waste companies to come to our sorting sites to recycle and compost waste rather than just dumping it elsewhere. This, in my opinion, would help us to scale our model to a much bigger level and, thereby, bring a systemic change to the way waste is managed in Nairobi.”

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