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Entrepreneurs in Kenya, to the rescue of rivers choked by plastic

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A business emerging from Kenya has partnered with suburban communities in Nairobi to clean of plastic and restore life to the rivers that cross the capital, which flow dark and opaque, suffocated by tons of waste.

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“In this river our parents used to bathe and wash their clothes. Now these waters are so polluted that there is not even aquatic life.”Christopher Okwako, a resident of the Kariadudu neighborhood (northeast), on the outskirts of the city, explains to EFE.

Clad in his green work overalls, this member of a group created by the community itself to clean the Mathare River – whose current ends in the Athi River, which flows into the Indian Ocean and is the second longest in Kenya – speaks surrounded by newly planted trees where mountains of rubbish used to accumulate.

Okwako is one of the neighbors who works with the company Chemolex, which, since 2019, has installed 13 plastic collection devices in the city, each of which collects an average of 3.5 tons of plastic per month, although some reach 8 tons.

Abandonment of the slums

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“The reason there is so much plastic is a dysfunctional waste management infrastructure”declared to EFE Clifford Okoth, chemist and founder of the company, which collaborates with at least 25 citizen groups that were already engaged in removing plastic from the river with their own hands and then reselling it.

The devices consist of a metallic net that filters the water and a machine to extract the waste that this barrier intercepts. Such a simple mechanism that makes the abandonment of these neighborhoods by the authorities even more flagrant.

“We have been abandoned because we are far from the most developed areas”points to EFE a few kilometers away, in the Ngunyumu area, Felix Ochieng, head of another group.

Disconnected for the most part from the sewage lines and faced with an inefficient system without waste collection resources, garbage does nothing but accumulate in these marginal neighborhoods, putting the health of its inhabitants at risk.

Health impact

“Communities suffer the negative impact of plastic pollution, since drainage lines are blocked (…) and diseases related to stagnant water arise, where parasites reproduce”denounces to EFE Erastus Ooko, environmental scientist of the Greenpeace organization.

Nairobi produces between 2,000 and 4,000 tons of waste a day (including plastic and other materials), according to different estimates.

However, collection services reach less than 50% of the national urban population, according to data published in 2010 by the National Statistics Office of Kenya.

The lack of updated data is a problem in the country, where only 27% of annual plastic waste is collected and 8% is recycled, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), despite to pioneering measures such as the ban on single-use plastic bags in 2017.

Nairobi’s rivers also contain levels of metals such as lead, copper or zinc well above those recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

As a result, residents contract respiratory and skin diseases, says Joab Misula, a member of Ngunyumu’s group. “Even medical centers throw their waste into the river: needles, bottles…”the Mint.

circular economy

Chemolex’s work does not end on the banks of rivers. After employing community groups to collect the plastic, the company buys it and recycles it to make paving stones, following the logic of the circular economy.

“Nothing is wasted”points out Okoth, whose project is part of the Clean Currents Coalition, which includes similar initiatives in countries such as Mexico, Ecuador or Panama and obtains financing, in part, from the Coca Cola Foundation, the company that generates the most waste of plastic generated in the world.

Around the riverside devices and with the support of the company, the residents have “turned” dirt in parks and urban gardens, leaving a landscape of contrasts: between the stench emanating from the water and the green of the trees.

So much so that, in a corner now landscaped where before there was only garbage, “last week a couple came to take their wedding photos,” reveals Okwako, brimming with pride.

Projects like this are especially important a few days after the start of the first meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on a binding treaty to deal with plastic pollution on November 28 in Uruguay.

The committee arose last February from the V Assembly of the United Nations for the Environment (UNEA-5), held precisely in Nairobi, headquarters of the UN Environment Program (UNEP).

Source: Gestion

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