Dandora rubbish dump tells a story.
This huge rubbish pile in eastern Nairobi receives large deposits of solid waste from the city and its environs almost on an hourly basis.
As trucks, pick-ups and lorries filled with rotting garbage off-load waste, hundreds of middle class households continue reproducing it.
We might not look at it this way but garbage production is a preserve of the economically advantaged simply because it is a by product of a consumer culture.
That garbage produced in ‘leafy’ neighbourhoods seems to find its way into rubbish dumps in suburbs such as Dandora is not news to the ears of an urbanite born and bred in city ghettos like myself.
Infact, some might even say that these rubbish dumps provide a ‘lifeline’ to the poorest…
Some would say that they ‘forage’ through the mess in search for valuable leftovers.
Small wonder such rubbish dumps are ‘commandeered’ by interested parties ready to defend their turfs if need be.
But these fiefdoms are not just a preserve of cronies that call the shots.
Cartels (as they are famously refered to in Kenya) are a click of mafioso oligarchs who mint millions from the middle class households through garbage collection services.
Unlike the normal garbage collection services, these cartels have a money-minting strategy up their sleeves…
Theirs is a move to make the most out of the least while leaving the environment worse than they found it…
And they defend this ‘right’ with all their might.
But at what cost?
SOLID WASTE POLLUTION
The stench of solid waste is hard to ignore simply because of the breakdown of organic matter going on inside the heap.
But this breakdown of organic matter could benefit us in more ways than we could imagine.
Rotting matter breaks down in the abscence of oxygen to produce fuel.
Alternatively, it could degrade in the presence of oxygen forming a valuable commodity we all need for our gardens.
That this nutrient rich, dark brown, crispy material improves our soils is not a subject of debate.
But is it accessible to all?
The dynamics of garbage generation and disposal would point us towards a certain direction in this regard.
Garbage is a valuable commodity accessible only to those who either produce it, have the financial muscle to acquire it or illicitly use social capital to defend it.
In short, the opportunity to convert garbage into compost is not accessible to the ones who need it most…the poorest of the poor.
Infact, companies which convert garbage into compost sell the commodity exorbitantly to the middle class who can pay for it.
What this means is that those who eat are those who can pay heftily for it.
Because compost is not cheap.
But what if we think of reversing the pattern?
What if we turn the tables and enable the poor access affordable compost?
Well, firstly, dissemination of composting knowledge is key.
Households in informal and low cost settlements need to be aware of the importance of garbage.
This will help them treat it as an asset and not a liability.
Recycling and composting are practices that need to be preached more often in the poor suburbs.
Most of them infact have a solid waste problem and this ideological shift will help in reaping some benefits.
But secondly, demistifying resources needed in compost-making is very key in helping even small households embrace it.
For a long time have we associated garbage composting to access to large tracts of land where decomposition can take place.
However, newer and more innovative composting systems are being developed day by day some of which could use small balcony spaces.
Take for instance vermicomposting which accelerates the process using red wriggler worms which break down waste food into worm castings…
Or bin composting which uses small bins to produce the commodity over a period of a few weeks.
Thirdly, households in such disadvantaged communities could ‘gang up’ to collect their waste, pool it together and start a recycling/composting initiative.
Infact, this is a strategy in the West.
Some communities form composting centres where households could exchange their garbage with ready compost to grow vegetables at home.
Lastly, one may ask what we could do with compost in an urban set up where there is no farming.
Well, we could use it to grow vegetables in an urban farm.
The urban farm is an important concept in this regard.
From PVC pipe farming to the foodwall…
From sack farming to the hanging gardens…
Urban farming ideas are coming of age and there are many to choose from.
Today, there is no reason why one should solely depend on the market for all their vegetable supply.
Easy-to-grow vegetables such as spinach, beetroots, carrots etc. could be propagated from the comfort of an apartment balcony using home-made compost generated from kitchen waste.
One might say that this makes a little difference.
However remember that these are vegetables grown organically and are free from pesticides and mineral fertilizers.
Having a week full of such a healthy choice on your menu certainly wouldn’t hurt.
Compost is not just a commodity that gives us a healthy yield in food, but one which we should courageously help make available to all.
After all, what we take in as food determines our health today and in days to come.
Also see video on Urban farming ideas: