Within the shadows of our present day society, a hidden menace looms large: WASTE. The aftermath of unchecked consumption coupled with inadequate waste management keeps growing towering mountains of garbage in informal areas such as Dandora’s dumpsite and Mathare seeping back into our ecosystems via our city’s rivers.
Even though Kenya banned single-use plastics in 2017, plenty of merchandise packaging, used clothing, straws, and food-grade plastics are moving between our houses and landfills. Sometimes, they find their way back onto our table tops as recycled materials.
Earlier on this year, an orange coloured lorry with modified containers labeled “Taka Taka Solutions” would have passed me unnoticed as I’d have no idea that they recycle almost four percent of the trash we produce everyday.
While most of their waste or that they are among the few companies that recycle and repurpose plastics, TakaTaka Solutions boasts collecting at least 90 tonnes of waste in Nairobi and its environs each day which is approximately 3.75 percent of Nairobi’s total waste. Kenya’s capital, Nairobi produces about 2400 tonnes of solid waste each day. Of the collected waste at least 20 percent is plastic waste.
TakaTaka Solutions recycles 95 percent of their collected waste. Further, the firm makes compost from organic waste as it turns plastics into flakes and pellets for sale to plastic manufacturers.
From the collected waste at least 20 percent is plastic waste, that translates to around 18 tonnes of plastic in a day which is approximately 540 tonnes a month.
Single use plastics ban in Kenya
Yes, that’s a lot of plastic considering the 2017 ban of single use plastics in Kenya with a few exceptions of course.
TakaTaka Solutions is a key player in the waste management sector in the country and mainly in Nairobi. Contrary to what some Nairobi women would say, “TakaTaka” actually means “trash” in English; to them, it strangely refers to “some men.”
The enterprise is a vertically integrated waste management company set up in 2011. It collects, sorts, recycles and makes compost. The firm serves a big and diverse clientele ranging from corporates and residential clients to malls, manufacturing companies and even hospitals
Most of these clientele are based in Nairobi or within the Nairobi Metropolitan Area which stretches all the way from Thika in the North East (Kiambu County) to Kiserian in the South West (Kajiado County)
Recently, I got the privilege to visit their state of the art recycling plant on the outskirts of the city and see how they go about their recycling processes.
What meets you at the entrance of the plant is a large sign on safety measures and rules to observe when in the plant. But for the trash, the first step is the weighing station where the garbage collection lorries pass through to establish the total weight of the trash they are bringing into the plant. After weighing the trash, it’s now ready for further sorting.
PET soda bottle wastes
We went a day after a holiday so you can only imagine how large the mountains of waste that lay around the large compound.
Once there, the workers sort the waste into different categories. Taka Taka Solutions prides itself for its rigorous and efficient sorting processes and fractions. The firm sorts waste into 48 different categories ranging from organic waste, cardboards, paper, metal, plastic containers, glass etc.
Our hosts told us their fractions were not algebra but the various types of plastics within a plastic. Take for example a PET soda bottle which I assume most of us have interacted with.
The bottle has three different types of plastic on it, the first being the actual colorless bottle, the second is the bottle top which is a more hardened type of plastic and finally the labeling paper that contains the branding of the soda. One bottle alone gave us three fractions so you see how easy it is to get to the 48 fractions!
A specialized picker is assigned to each fraction as the garbage is manually sorted by picking and placing onto the conveyor belts in manageable amounts.
After separation, the organic waste is taken to the drying fields before it is turned into compost manure.
Sorting plastics according to color
The plastic waste on the other end heads to the recycling plant. As expected the place is noisy and booming with engine sounds from the machines working.
The factory is crewed by workers at their different stations with their respective duties all donned in their appropriate PPEs. At the entrance, the workers sort the plastic waste according to its color. While clear and white plastics are handled separately, colored plastics are recycled together.
At this time we found the colored ones under processing. The process begins by forking them into conveyor belt for weighing before progressing up the belt. Immediately after, hawk-eyed workers pick up anything that might have passed undetected in the initial stages.
Afterwards the wastes move to the next step which is cutting and crushing it into smaller flakes. The plastic meets rotating blades, reducing them into smaller pieces for more efficient processing.
They go up a metallic pipe and into the first wash of the day to remove impurities. The turbo wash, which is the initial wash, uses extremely hot water under high pressure and speed. It removes most impurities including the persistent ones such as glue on the plastics.
Once done, they proceed to the second wash at a temperature of about 90 degrees Celsius. The plastic flakes then get to the third and last wash of the day now completely free of impurities. At this point, rinsing occurs before entering the dryer for further processing. The drier performs two functions which are of course drying and lastly removing the previous labels leaving the plastics new for repurposing.
At this point, the plastics are all in flakes. While some move to the pelletizer, the next stage, others are left as flakes.
The pelletizer transforms the flakes into pellets through heating the flakes, melting them and compressing them. They are then packed and sold to companies that deal with plastics after preparation.
Seeing the works, equipment and processes put into recycling shows you why only a few companies do so in the country. It is a capital intensive process that requires a sizeable investment. And all that takes away just small fraction of the city waste.
For recycling to work, maybe we should all try to find small ways we could recycle at home and prevent the trash from finding its way to a landfill in the first place.