Gitau Mercy Wanja

Degree Programme
Masters of Science in Environmental Governance
Research Topic:
Analysis of the Role of Waste Pickers on Informal Solid Waste Management: A Case of Roysambu Constituency
Gitau Mercy Wanja


With the increased population growth and urbanization, developing countries are faced with increased consumption and production activities. As a result, solid waste production has become a key concern in many countries, Kenya inclusive, due to the challenges of regulating it. In Kenya, solid waste management authorities have not in totality managed to control and collect the solid waste generated from the production and consumption activities.  Informal waste picking has been rationalized on the grounds that, waste pickers make use of this opportunity to earn their living as the status quo of the urban areas cannot absorb them in the formal jobs sector. Through the literature search, it is clear that waste pickers help in creating wealth particularly for the cartels and brokers who engage in purchasing the collected waste. However, the informal solid waste management is not recognized and there is no regulation to guide this sector. Therefore this leaves big gaps for research to identify the role that informal waste pickers take in implementing a sustainable environment. This study is aimed at analyzing the role of waste pickers in the informal solid waste management sector taking Roysambu Constituency in Nairobi County, as the case study. The study made use of both qualitative and quantitative research approach through the use of survey design to collect data from 196 waste pickers (n = 196) and assessed the degree to which they impact the informal waste management. The quantitative data was analyzed by the use of tables, graphs and percentages whereas the thematic analysis was used for the qualitative data.  The study found that plastic containers are the most collected types at 35% however, there are other types of wastes that included glass 18%, scrap metal 12%. Additionally, informal waste pickers have an economic, as well as, environmental value.

The waste they collect has some economic value in terms of generating incomes for them and boosting the recycling activities where solid waste is converted to useful products. For instance plastic containers are recycled to make buckets, basins, water tanks, poles just to name a few. The environmental value that could be attached to waste pickers’ role is that they contribute to a clean physical environment and some solid waste that would have otherwise ended in rivers and oceans is collected by waste pickers. Therefore the waste pickers’ role in waste collection is a milestone to the actualization of the Constitution of Kenya, 2010 that envisages a clean and healthy environment to all. The waste pickers go through harsh social and economic challenges in their daily routines. They lack proper meals, they carry waste on their back, they are vulnerable to diseases and injuries and their income varies and they can survive on less than a dollar day which cannot support their siblings for the ones that have dependents. All the research objectives were achieved and all the research questions were answered. The study concludes that waste pickers are crucial players in solid waste management particularly for plastic containers which is the most common kind of waste of interest among the informal waste pickers because of the availability and attached economic value. The waste pickers are crucial actors in solid waste management and towards achieving a clean and healthy environment. Socially and economically, the informal waste pickers are neglected and sidelined. The study recommends for some changes within their structure which include implementing training programs, reduce the middle men, start more recycling plants where waste pickers can take solid waste directly, initiate a government compensatory programs which can include these people in the county-level waste management platforms. It is not enough to have solid waste collected and disposed in designated areas, it should be processed and converted to useful by-products this way it becomes less toxic.