Recently, I visited a public university in Kenya. The senior management took me around the university to see the projects being implemented in the institution. One of the projects captured my attention since it appeared not to have embraced sustainability.
The university got a grant to implement a waste management project. Some of the activities involved segregation of waste, selling the useful waste to recyclers and composting of organic waste.
I noted that the site was well fenced. The waste generated from the university was all moved to the waste management site. The site did not receive waste from other areas.
The waste received was all mixed up. The first task was to segregate the mixed waste to isolate the recyclable and the organic waste.
The project developed diverse infrastructure to support handling of the separated waste. For example, looking at this photo, you’ll see some cubicles at the background that were meant to be the holding ground for the sorted recyclable waste.
Other infrastructural improvements were development of a chimney like structure which was to serve as an incinerator to burn the non recyclable material. Of course the incinerator built is not the best type since it cannot handle high temperatures to denature the waste. Hence it should be regarded as a burning chamber and not an incinerator.
To support composting, I saw giant sieves to separate fine from coarse material. It was easy to get convinced that composting aspect of the project was working well.
What amazed me was that the site seemed not operational. The grass grew around the entire infrastructure and the remaining waste dumped at the site. A university with over 5000 students was expected to generate a lot of waste and the site should have been quite active.
I asked my guides what could have happened since the site was inactive. “The project money got exhausted and we did not have access to another grant” my guide replied.
I was left wondering about why the university had such a challenge. I felt that waste management is not a reserve for the elites. NEMA has successfully worked with residents in a dumpsite to enhance waste recovery and recycling (see https://ayubmacharia.com/2015/09/18/working-with-youth-in-a-dump-site-in-waste-entrepreneurship/).
The locality of the university does not have a shortage of youthful waste handlers who eke a living from collecting waste from households and the local dumpsite. Had the university explored some kind of partnership with these street families, both would have benefitted. The university project would have been sustained. The street families could have benefitted from a working site with readily available materials. What could have been explored is the kind of agreement to suit both parties and the benefits sharing formula. The lack of this arrangement was disastrous since it exposed the university as incompetent in coming up with a sustainable waste management initiative. An opportunity to create jobs for the youth and to improve their livelihoods was missed.
This observation from my visit left me with many unanswered questions about innovations in our universities. What kind of innovations are nurtured there? I thought waste management is a simple challenge but what I saw is contrary. If universities are being challenged by local waste management, what could be said of other institutions? What could be said about the county governments in waste management? Its a pity.