Plastic has become the most common material since the beginning of the 20th century and modern life is unthinkable without it. Unfortunately, what makes it so useful, such as its durability, light weight and low cost, also makes it problematic when it comes to its end of life phase due to its non-biodegradable nature.

In Kenya, over 24 million plastic bags are used monthly, half of which end up in the solid waste mainstream. Plastic bags now constitute the biggest challenge to solid waste management in the country.

Plastic bags and climate change are linked in a variety of ways. From air quality to ocean toxicity, plastic bags contribute to eco-system disruption. Even worse, plastic is poisonous. Some of its ingredients such as biosphenol-A and Phthalates have been proved to cause cancer, birth defects, impaired immunity, endocrine disruption and other ailments. Additionally, plastic threatens wildlife and is a pollutant of groundwater. Cases of groundwater pollution due to landfills have been reported worldwide, and toxic leachates from landfills are among the major groundwater quality risks, according to the International Association of Hydrological Sciences.

“The plastic bags we have in Kenya are so flimsy that millions of them only get used once before being thrown away, you see them in the trees, in the hedges and on the ground. And when they settle on the ground, they collect small pools of stagnant water, in which mosquitos breed.” Professor Wangari Maathai

In 2006, a comprehensive plastic waste management strategy for Nairobi, Kenya was developed. The functionality of this scheme needed rising mass awareness, serious consultation, attractive incentives, heavy penalties on the offenders and community participation and interaction.

Ten years down the line, nothing much has been done and now, plastic waste is no longer an urban issue, it is an environmental problem throughout the country.

To deal with this menace, both the top-down and bottom-up approaches should be used. There is need to create a mechanism for grassroots communities to engage in consultations and training to enable sound management of plastic waste. Strengthening and implementation of policies is also key and all the stakeholders should be committed to dealing with this problem.

The Green Belt movement has realized that a bottom-up approach to environmental education, with respect to plastic waste management, is vital. This will not only change their attitude towards living in a clean and safe environment but also empower them to better manage their household waste. In this bottom-up approach, the community groups will be trained, at the grassroots level, on the effects of plastic waste.They will have the knowledge to separate their waste at household level and to reduce and reuse plastic bags. By so doing, the problem will have been solved by half.

What if the over 4000 GBM community groups understood the effect of plastic waste and took initiative to reduce, reuse and recycle plastic bags?



Solid waste management is Nairobi’s most visible environmental challenge. Rubbish heaps piled high with paper, plastics and other waste are an everyday feature of the city’s landscape. Dirty, torn plastic bags are seen wedged stubbornly into roadside features such as drainage, pavements and shrubbery in poor and more affluent areas alike.

With a growing population, Nairobi’s annual waste production of 3,121 tonnes is set to more than double by 2030, the year by which Kenya is supposed to be a middle-income country, consuming more and therefore generating more waste.

As it stands, only about 27% of the solid waste generated daily makes it to the Dandora dumpsite, the city’s only official dumpsite, which has been declared a health hazard to the neighboring community. With only 5% of waste recycled, these numbers mean that a staggering 68% of the city’s daily waste is improperly disposed. This would explain the multiple mini-dumpsites found along the city’s roads and in open spaces.

To address the present and future waste management challenge, the former City Council of Nairobi in collaboration with the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), developed the 2010 Nairobi Solid Waste Management Plan. The plan includes decommissioning the Dandora dumpsite and creating a landfill for Nairobi.

But landfills are not environmentally friendly. For example, plastics can take up to 1,000 years to degrade when stuffed into landfills and release toxins as they decompose.

The 2010 Plan recommended that recycling and composting would be realistic, cost-effective complements to a landfill. Much waste could be disposed of this way since 65% of Nairobi’s waste is bio-waste while the next largest group is plastics, which constitute 12% of waste.

Nairobi already has a vibrant recycling economy, albeit at a small-scale level, which could be built up to support the plan’s recommendations.

While many Nairobians understand the long-term ramifications of improper solid waste management to the environment, recycling has not caught on, particularly in middle- and high-income areas where recycled products generate income proportionately too minimal to consider pursuing seriously. These income groups already consume more and, therefore, generate proportionally more waste. Changing behavioral habits of these groups will be instrumental to the success of recycling efforts in Nairobi.



Basically paper is made from cellulose fibers derived from plants. Cellulose consists of glucose chains which form the building block for most plant materials. The fibre in both wood, grass and other fibrous plants such as hyacinth weed is made of cellulose. These fibers are bound together to form parenchyma (are thin-walled cells that make up the inside of many non-woody plant structures including stems, roots, and leaves) and sclerenchyma cells (in woody plants bound together by lignin). In function cellulose gives wood its strength, while lignin gives it rigidity (stiffness). Pure cellulose is white, while lignin is dark brown or black

To make paper a form paper, cellulose is separated from lignin and a mixture of sugars called hemicelluloses and other minor chemical components. This separation can be accomplished mechanically or chemically in a process called pulping.

In mechanical process, solid wood is steamed and ground into fine fibers which are laterpassed through chemical bleaching process to produce (Semi-mechanical chemical pulp) such as the one used to produce newsprint paper grade.

In chemical process, small pieces of chipped wood is cooked under high temperature and pressure in either acid (sulphite pulping) or alkali (sulphate pulping) to dissolve lignin which is later extracted through washing process. At this stage the pulp (raw paper) is brown in color and it is thereafter bleached to make it white. Packaging paper is almost never bleached, the reason cartons are brown in color(Kraft grade).

To make it white and depending on the whiteness level required, the resultant pulp mixture is passed through different chemical bleaching methods. While bleaching improves the quality of paper, it also weakens the paper. For instance, if you bleach strongly to remove as much lignin as possible, the fibresbecomes weak. If you leave some lignin, such as case of newsprint, the paper ages faster due to reverse oxidation. The acidic compounds retained on the material during pulping causes a catalytic reaction that activates the hydrolytic decomposition (degradation) of cellulose

However, it is impossible to remove all the lignin. Lignin slowly oxidises and turns paper brown or yellowish. For high quality wood paper, acid pulping is used, but this method is also more polluting.

Pulp from hardwoods (broadleaved species) consists of shorter fibres which are stiffer and is often used for low grade paper like cartons. Softwood (needle-leaved) species have longer fiber which makes it more flexible.


Stage 1: Chipping/breaking down. – Breaking down wood and other cellulose material into smaller pieces for easier processing.

Step 2: Beating/cooking– Mechanical process of individualizing cellulose fibers and remover of lignin (binding material)

Step 3: Bleaching – Whitening using bleaching chemicals

Step 4: Formation– spreading of pulp slurry of fibers in a fast moving mat to form a sheet of paper

Step 5: Drying – Pressing paper mat between rollers to remove water hence reducing moisture content from 80-5%

Step 6: Conversion– Reducing the size of ready paper to usable sizes.