Walking through the Nanyuki slum the first thing you notice is a peculiar smell of a sweet but unnatural like smoke. A smell that you will probably never have smelled before if you come from a western country like me. You will soon realise that the smell is coming from huge piles of smouldering trash being burnt on the side of the street right next to where the people burning it live.
For someone like me who comes from a completely different place where the trash is picked up by the government once a week whereafter some of it is recycled and some of burnt in a big compound where the energy from the fire is converted in to electricity this is certainly a new sight.
Here in the slum it is a normal everyday occurrence for the people living here.
But burning trash in this way is not a foreign concept to most people in the world. Statistics show that around 1.1 billion tons of trash or 40 percent of the worlds trash is dealt with in this manner making it the most common way to handle rubbish in the world.
I was interested in finding out what effect the trash burning has on the environment and the health risk that it causes the people living right next to it. When looking at research done on the issues with burning trash made by the American professor Wiedinmyer who works for the national centre or Atmospheric Research it shows that carbon dioxide is the primary major gas emitted by trash burning but on a global scale it only amounts to 5 percent of the total global carbon dioxide emissions, which does not seem like a very big percentage when you take into consideration that it is 40 percent of the worlds trash which is dealt with in this way. So when it comes to the environment trash burning is definitely not the big sinner.
The numbers are not as positive when it comes to the trash burning’s effect on the locals health. In Wiedinmyers research he found out that 29 percent of the global human emissions of small particulate matter (tiny solid particles and liquid droplets from dust to metals that can penetrate deep into the lungs) come from trash fires. Making it a huge health risk for the people breathing it everyday.
I also wanted the perspective of the people doing it and living with it everyday and when asking the locals living in the Nanyuki slum how the view the trash burning their answers are very positive. They told me that before they started collectively gathering the trash and burning it in piles it used to just be scattered around the slum so that instead of the smell of smoke and fire which disappears throughout the day there would be a constant smell of rubbish all around the slum. So for them this recent development has made life in the slum a lot more comfortable.
So when discussing this issue of trash burning it is difficult to say whether it is a better alternative to the earlier ways of dealing with the trash when taking both sides into consideration but it can be concluded that further development and work can be done here in Kenya and especially in the slums and that extra focus and means from the government can definitely be put into making the health of the people a priority and that also means helping these people with managing the tons and tons of trash that they know have to manage by themselves.