Kenyan entrepreneurs come to the rescue of plastic-choked rivers

By Lucía Blanco Gracia

Nairobi, 24 nov (EFE).- A startup company has partnered with suburban communities in Nairobi to revive the Kenyan capital’s pollution-clogged rivers.

“In this river, our fathers used to swim and women were washing clothes,” Christopher Owako, who works with Chemolex to clean the Mathare river, tells Efe.

“Now these waters are polluted and no one can use it. There is not even aquatic life inside.”

The Mathare is a tributary of Kenya’s second largest river, the Athi, which empties into the Indian ocean.

Dressed in a green overall, Owako is surrounded by trees which were recently planted in an area where mountains of garbage used to accumulate. “Even last week a couple took some wedding pictures there,” he says with pride.

Since 2019, Chemolex has installed 13 plastic collection devices in the city’s rivers, each collecting an average of 3.5 tons of plastic per month, although sometimes as much as 8 tons.

“The reason why there is so much plastic is due to dysfunctional waste management infrastructure,” chemist and Chemolex founder Clifford Okoth says.

The company has now teamed with some 25 groups of locals who were already taking the plastic out of the river in order to sell the material.

The collection devices have a metallic net that filters the water and a machine to extract the debris. Its simplicity further highlights the neglect shown by city authorities.

“We have been left behind as a matter of being far from the developed areas,” says Felix Ochieng, the head of one of the cleaning groups in the Ngunyumu area of Nairobi.

Mostly disconnected from sewer lines and facing an inefficient and under-resourced waste collection system, garbage accumulates in these slums, putting the health of their inhabitants at risk.


“The communities are suffering the negative impact of plastic pollution as drainage lines are getting blocked resulting in floods and eruption of water-related diseases,” said Erastus Ooko, an environmental scientist working for Greenpeace.

Nairobi’s estimated waste production is between 2,000 and 4,000 tons of waste every day, including plastics, but the country’s collection services access less than 50% of the national urban population, according to data published in 2010 by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.

The lack of updated information is also one of the country’s problems.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), only 27% of the country’s annual plastic waste is collected and 8% is recycled despite pioneering measures such as the ban on single-use plastic bags in 2017.

The levels of lead, copper or zinc in Nairobi’s rivers are far above those recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

As a result, residents are contracting respiratory and dermatological diseases, according to Joab Misula, a member of the Ngunyumu group.

“It is not safe, even the health facilities around dump their waste there: needles, bottles…”

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