By Gift Briton
Sitting on a one-acre land in Ngong Town, Kajiado County, Ngong market remains one of East Africa’s biggest and cleanest modern markets, making it a choice destination for food supplies among thousands of locals.
The four-storey building market has nearly two thousand traders with a daily influx of various visitors.
Unlike most markets in Kenya, the environment in Ngong market seems clean and organized, with almost no uncollected garbage and odour.
Judy Nyamweya, one of the customers at the multi-million modern market, says that Ngong market remains her favorite marketplace due to its noticeable hygiene and sanitation practices, adding that the market has no filth compared to others she has visited.
“Garbage affects and slows down the movement of people in a market, especially during the rainy season. But in this market, people move freely and comfortably even after it rains making it easy to reach the traders,” she notes.
The situation in the Ngong market is the inverse of what you are likely to meet in most Kenyan marketplaces which are often characterized by wastes dumped along and within market roads with overflown -large-sized waste bins placed in strategic areas that are mostly left uncleaned for weeks.
According to the World Health Organization(WHO), this puts at risk the health of consumers who get their food supplies daily from these markets.
In Kenya, waste management including waste collection, disposal, and recycling is one of the serious challenges facing the country today.
Furthermore, WHO notes that poor sanitary conditions, including uncollected garbage and abandoned rotten foodstuff in a market, could potentially lead to disease outbreaks and foodborne illnesses.
WHO also discloses that foodstuff being sold in dirty and untidy environments risks contamination causing more than 200 diseases.
According to the organization, diarrheal diseases are the most common illnesses from consuming contaminated food. In Kenya, over 1,300 children die each year due to foodborne diseases.
Mary Wambui, a vegetable and food vendor at Ngong market did not hesitate to register her satisfaction with the sanitation and current waste management in the market.
According to the 52-year-old, customers no longer shy away from buying foodstuff adding that “most customers prefer not to buy your products particularly when your surrounding is dirty and filthy because flies are all over.”
Wambui notes that the improved sanitation in Ngong market has saved her from frequent stomach bloats and breathing problems which she often experiences after breathing toxic gases from a filthy environment.
In 2022, Kajiado County entered into a partnership with Biogas International- an organization dealing in renewable energy and conservation through biogas and solar technologies.
Through this partnership, Biogas International was tasked to handle waste management in the market.
As a result, sanitation at the multi-million market has greatly improved with almost ten tons of waste diverted daily from landfills through waste recycling.
“Since the inception of this partnership, we have observed that the market is consistently very clean. The technology has created employment and reduced our operation cost as a municipality,” David Kobaai, Municipal Manager in Ngong, observes.
Three kilometers away from Ngong market, Biogas International has set up a one-acre recycling facility where all unwanted and discarded materials from the market are recycled. The organization has hired youths who collect every waste from the market and transport them to the recycling facility.
Upon arrival at the facility, sorting of the waste begins. The sorting process helps in categorizing and determining which waste to use where.
During sorting, organic wastes such as rotten fruits and vegetables, leaves, potatoes, and banana peels are manually separated from other non-biodegradable wastes such as metals, glasses, polyethylene, and many more.
After the segregation, organic wastes with little or no fats such as leaves, potato, pineapple, and banana peels, rotten fruits, onion, and vegetable remnants are put in a compost heap for up to six months. The result of these wastes is organic fertilizer which is sold locally for Kshs. 250 (about two dollars) per kilogram.
Other organic wastes including avocado seeds and peels or oily foodstuff with saturated fats are fed into the biogas digester to produce energy for cooking, lighting, and shower among others.
As opposed to the traditional fixed-dome biogas system that was restricted to cow dung only, the biogas system used by this organization does not require any construction or digging and works in a similar way to the human digestive system. It has an inlet, digester, and outlet.
These wastes are fed to the biogas system after being crushed into smaller particles for easier breakdown and then mixed with water in a ratio of one to one. For instance, ten kilograms of waste is mixed with ten liters of water, and the mixture is fed into the biogas through the inlet.
The biogas digester then breaks down this waste aerobically to produce biogas and liquid fertilizer as the by-product which is sold to farmers.
One bag of waste can generate up to 1000 litres of biogas in a day which is used in household cooking, lighting, and heating the shower as well as chicken brooding.
Currently, there are three models of biogas digester that the organization deals in including medium, large and extra-large models. The medium-sized biogas digester can sufficiently supply power to households of not more than six people and it costs Kshs. 80,000 (about USD 551) including installation fees.
The large-size model can be used by a bigger household compared to the medium-sized model. It cost Kshs. 100,000 (about USD 689). The extra-large model is recommended where large-scale consumption of power is required such as schools and organizations. It costs Kshs. 150,000 (about USD 1034) inclusive of installation fee.
The non-biodegradable wastes are incinerated and the ashes are mixed with cement to make concrete.
“This technology has created a circular economy in Ngong whereby no waste is taken to the dumpsite. There is no heap of waste in Ngong market and this makes it one of the cleanest in the region. If you go to most markets in the country, you will find heaps of overflown waste bins lying outside until the garbage rots,” Kobaai says.
Notably, the technology has led to the decommissioning of Ngong dumpsite since most of the wastes that used to be taken to this dumpsite are now recycled by Biogas International.
What used to be Ngong dumpsite is now an open playground and grazing field and the municipality now is contemplating turning it into a recreational center.
“We are keen on making our urban centres business-friendly and garbage-free. At least for now, the mountain that was in Ngong dumpsite is now gone to pave the way for the upcoming public recreation park,” Kobaai added.
He continues: “We want to adapt the practice in all markets across the County because, from the practice, we no longer believe in dumpsites anymore. We believe that nothing should go to the dumpsite.”
Dominic Wanjihia- the Founder of Biogas International- says that the biogas system being used in Ngong is simple and portable and the digester can run on all kinds of biodegradable materials including weeds such as water hyacinth.
“You realize that 70% of the waste that is going to the landfills are organic materials which mostly comes from restaurant and market places. These materials have the highest caloric value for biogas production, especially the oily processed food,” he continued, “By setting up recycling centers where the organic wastes are managed, you automatically stop the plastics and any waste from ending in the dumpsites and rivers.”
Before Biogas International came in waste management at the market was done by the municipality. However, according to John Kimani who sustained an arm injury in 2020 after sliding on a banana peel as he offloaded one of the trucks, the municipality was overwhelmed with the waste management work.
“I am happy with the current sanitation standards. Since Biogas International took over waste management, the market has been generally clean including the air we breathe,” Kimani says.
James Musyoka, a technician at the recycling facility, says that although the organization managed to successfully manage waste at the market, the process is tiresome and time-consuming especially when sorting the waste and making a compost heap.
“It requires a lot of labour and sometimes you can get cut or pricked by sharp objects during the sorting process,” he adds.