Every year, 3,966 tons of plastic are collected in the Nairobi’s settlement of Kibera, which comprises roughly 7 percent of the total amount of plastic to dispose. Of such quantities, 86 percent is dumped, while only 14 percent is recovered and therefore recycled. The government statistics size the total population of Kibera around 250,000 people, with an amount of waste yearly generated of 17.1 kilograms per person; but the lack of reliable data on population and growth parameters on the slum area may lead to a drastic growth in the rate of waste generation.
In response to this problem, the pilot project “New Life to Plastic” (NLtP) introduces a circular economy centered around the collection and recycling of plastic, centered around a partnership between the non-profit organization Social Innovation Teams based in Milan, the Department of Architecture and Urban Studies of the Polytechnic University of Milan, and the Soweto East Youth organization in Kibera. This process will be led by a local-based group of women who will collect the plastic, work the machinery, and resell the recycled plastic. The creation of a circular economy within the slum allows for the creation of income from plastic products consumed, the entire micro-economy of the slum is also projected to benefit from the implementation of this project. In Kenyan society, women are often confined to the home sphere to look after the children and the house work, while men are traditionally the breadwinners. This traditional model for economic participation limits economic development of the community because only a fraction of the total number of able-bodied workers are actually producing. Engaging marginalized groups in compensated economic activity increases the overall productivity of the labor market. Kibera’s women have not attained a position of full equality to men and are not considered active part of the society. For these reasons, NLtP aims at ensuring women’s full and effective participation and opportunities for leadership in the project, by enhancing the use of enabling technology and machinery to promote the empowerment of the target group. To that effect, the women play a fundamental part in this project, since they are more likely to be involved in the recovery of materials, due to their role at the household level, which puts them in daily contact with waste, such as used plastic containers, leftovers, and other organic material. Therefore, the role women have in the community is moved from the private sphere to the public, by creating a framework in which they are able to participate in economic activity. The first step towards a more sustainable urban environment should concern the awareness and sensitization of the population, with a focus on low-income and low-educated groups. The model presented in this proposal fosters the creation of a sound material-cycle society through effective use of resources, in order to avoid an improper disposal and an uncontrolled dumping of waste that can contaminate groundwater and soil and attract disease-carrying animals and insects, besides irreversibly affecting human health.
Planned Goals and Milestones
The proposal submitted is proposed as a pilot project, with two fundamental characteristics: replicability and scalability. In its first implementation stage, the scale of the project covers the physical area of a neighborhood, addressing a proportion of people living within an informal settlement. Implementing this innovation initially on a smaller scale will make the results of the model more visible. In this way, the model creates substantial outcomes within the local social, economic, and environmental areas of interest. In the long term, once we are able to gauge the effectiveness of the project, we plan to extend the cover ratio of the project, providing for the areas close to the catchment, with the idea of proposing a solution with results that can be replicated beyond this particular area of Kibera, and eventually to other slums in other countries, as the social status of women in less developed areas of the world is frequently that of Kibera slum.