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Waste pickers of Nakuru face harassment, exclusion and toxic conditions, Kenya

In Nakuru, thousands of people pick waste under often precarious conditions - even during the COVID-19 outbreak. Although they informally recover and recycle large amounts of waste, they remain socially excluded and institutionally discriminated against.


Kenya’s fourth-largest city Nakuru (population of about 500,000) was once considered East Africa’s cleanest city but has recently experienced fast growth that put pressure on its public infrastructure and waste management. In a move towards decentralization, the municipality in 2006 contracted private operators and community-based organizations for waste collection, at a point at which the collection rate was under 30 percent. However, garbage woes continue as waste volumes have increased to 250 tons per day and the city’s dumpsite is considered hazardous while a lot of waste remains uncollected or irregularly burned or discarded. Especially during the rainy season, waste that is left in the streets or irregularly dumped is washed into the rivers or blocks the sewerage system, leading to an increase in water-borne diseases such as cholera. [1][2][3][4][5][6]

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Waste pickers of Nakuru face harassment, exclusion and toxic conditions, Kenya
Location of conflict:Nakuru
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Waste Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Urban development conflicts
Waste privatisation conflicts / waste-picker access to waste
Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Water treatment and access to sanitation (access to sewage)
Specific commodities:Domestic municipal waste
Recycled Metals
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Project area:17
Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:several thousand
Start of the conflict:2010
Relevant government actors:Nakuru Municipal Council
Nakuru County government
National Environmental Management Authority (Nema)
Government of Kenya
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Nakuru Waste Pickers Association (NAWPA)
Waste Pickers Association of Kenya (WAPAK)
Nakuru Waste Collectors and Recyclers Management cooperative society (NAWACOM)
Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO)
Global Alliance of Waste Pickers (Globalrec)
Practical Action
Rotary Club of Nakuru
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Local ejos
Wastepickers, recyclers
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Fires, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases, Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Malnutrition, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Deaths
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights
Potential: Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Conflict outcome / response:Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
New legislation
Under negotiation
Proposal and development of alternatives:The organization WIEGO, which has been monitoring the situation of waste pickers in Nakuru, has given policy recommendations in various dimensions. They demand a stop of harassment and discrimination of waste pickers and more recognition and respect for these, by both residents and authorities. They demand that profits in the recycling chain have to become distributed fairer, so that waste pickers are not further exposed to exploitation. Municipal waste management policies have to be reoriented towards the inclusion of waste pickers, to guarantee them access to recyclable waste and improve their working conditions and social security. WIEGO calls for an inclusive solid waste management system in which the expertise of waste pickers around waste issues can be used. They would be contracted by the municipality and benefit from better health and safety conditions as well as capacity-building. This also requires social policies and the inclusion of waste pickers in political dialogues over waste. [2]

Environmental researcher Leah Oyake-Ombis however noted that a consequent implementation of this regulation was not realistic (for example, because it did not take into account economic impacts and local contexts) and that the country should rather prioritize plastic recovery and recycling. She noted that recycled plastic collected by waste pickers is already recycled by the plastic producers and that this practice could be further scaled-up as part of integrated waste management systems. This would also require better collection and separation of plastic waste, the protection of waste pickers, the installation of waste separation centers, and technological and financial support for waste processing, among others. [12]
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] Mwanzia, P, Kimani, S., Stevens, L. (2013): Integrated solid waste management: Decentralised service delivery case study of Nakuru municipality, Kenya. 36th WEDC International Conference, Nakuru, Kenya, 2013.

[2] Lubaale, G., Nyang’oro, O. (2013): Informal Economy Monitoring Study: Waste Pickers in Nakuru, Kenya. Manchester: WIEGO.

[4] Mwangi, N. (2015): Nakuru should work hard to regain her lost glory of the cleanest town in the region. Kenya Monitor, 30.07.2015. (Online, last accessed 02.05.2020)
[click to view]

[5] Wanaswa, V. (2018): Here is the future of Gioto dumpsite. Hivisasa. (Online, last accessed 02.05.2020)
[click to view]

[6] Wanja, M. (2017): Nakuru dump gives residents sleepless nights. Business Daily Africa, 05.04.2017. (Online, last accessed 02.05.2020)
[click to view]

[7] Kahenda, M., Chepwony, J. (2019): Danger lurks in waters where hospitals dump used syringes. Standard Digital, 06.08.2019. (Online, last accessed 02.05.2020)
[click to view]

[8] Ogembo, B. (2019): Old Habits Clogging Quest to Clear Africa’s Plastic Waste Problem. Business Today, 06.12.2019. (Online, last accessed 02.05.2020)
[click to view]

[9] Maina, N. (2015): Nakuru activist launches campaign to ban plastics. Kenya Monitor, 13.10.2015. (Online, last accessed 02.05.2020)
[click to view]

[10] Wanyama, E. (2012): Kenyan Pickers Doing it For Themselves. Globalrec, 19.12.2012. (Online, last accessed 02.05.2020)
[click to view]

[11] Mureithi, F. (2020): Covid-19: It is business as usual at Nakuru's Gioto dumpsite. Daily Nation, 05.03.2020. (Online, last accessed 02.05.2020)
[click to view]

[12] Oyake-Ombis, L. (2017): Kenya should be focused on recycling, not banning plastic bags. The Conversation, 04.07.2017. (Online, last accessed 02.05.2020)
[click to view]

[15] Nakuru County Government (2019): Official. Facebook, 29.11.2019. (Online, last accessed 02.05.2020)
[click to view]

[16] Mureithi, F. (2020): Covid-19: Nakuru Gioto dumpsite families get masks. Daily Nation, 01.05.2020. (Online, last accessed 02.05.2020)
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[3] KTN News Kenya (2013): Nakuru families living on Gioto dumpsite. Youtube, 02.11.2013. (Online, last accessed 02.05.2020)
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:EnvJustice Project (MS)
Last update27/05/2020
Conflict ID:5010
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