Displaying their wares
One man’s trash, Another’s treasure
by Super User

An English proverb says, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. For Jennifer Musangi David this proverb couldn’t be truer. The plastic carrier bag that has become an eyesore in many urban neighborhoods in Kenya earns her a decent income.

Jennifer is a member of a women group affiliated to Kitui Development Center (KDC) that recycles plastic carrier bags in Kitui weaving the African Kyondo (basket) and other products such as floor/table mats, hats, necklaces, jewelry boxes etc. through the support of the Civil Society Urban Development Platform (CSUDP) small grants portfolio.

 “Where others see trash, we see treasure. When my husband passed on, I had to cater for our three children then aged 17, 15 and 9 years. With little formal education and no means of livelihood, I did not know where to begin. It was then that I joined with other women and with the support of CSUDP through Kitui Development Centre (KDC) we were trained on how to recycle plastic carrier bags to various products. This initiative has really uplifted me. It has seen my children through school with the eldest now a P1 teacher, the second born a student at Embu University and the last born is a form 3 student”, says Jennifer with a grin.

She says they often do not have to go too far to collect the plastic bags. Poor waste management in Kenya’s urban areas has seen residents dump waste by the roadside and in open dumping sites in the residential estates. After washing the plastic bags with soap and an antiseptic such as Dettol to disinfect them, they dry them, cut them into strips and roll them into balls ready for weaving. 

Jennifer and a fellow woman, Rose Syombua exhibited their wares during the multi-stakeholder forum on the ban of plastic carrier bags in Kenya held at the UN Complex in Gigiri on 21 June 2017. Unlike a Country like Sweden that has a well-established recycling industry, Kenya is poor at recycling thus the ban on the plastic carrier bags the only option to deal with the menace. 

The proposed ban on plastic carrier bag set to take effect in September 2017 has already earned Kenya high praise from the international community. But how will the government account for the people – mainly vulnerable women and youth living in urban informal settlements who depend on recycling the plastic bags for their livelihoods? For Jennifer and others like her, this question begs for an answer. 

The Kyondo goes for between Kes 500 and Kes 1200. “Initiatives like these help vulnerable women find ways to earn an income and provide for their families”, says Felix Sammy, KDC’s Project Officer. “You now see fewer plastic bags in the neighborhoods where these women come from. The intervention has really helped clean up these areas”, he adds.  

 The partnership between CSUDP and KDC on community based climate change adaptation and environmental management started in 2014 to create environmental awareness as well support vulnerable women and youth to build social enterprises with environmental impact. In addition to weaving using waste plastic carrier bags, the intervention has seen over 150 community representatives from 5 wards in Kitui County acquire skills in building rocket stoves and briquette making.

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