Waste management has proved to be a sticky wicket in Kenya. Therefore, Nairobi Design Institute undertook this as a project in 2019 to explore the problem domain of waste management in Nairobi. We used a design thinking approach, which is rooted in Human-Centred Design. With each subsequent stage of the project, we employed divergent & convergent thinking and kept refining and narrowing the focus of our design challenge. My role in this project mainly included Design Research.



The first project Nairobi Design Institute undertook in 2019 explored the problem domain of waste management in Nairobi. To do this, we used a design thinking approach, which is rooted in Human-Centred Design. With each subsequent stage of the project, we employed divergent & convergent thinking and kept refining and narrowing the focus of our design challenge. My role in this project mainly included Design Research.


From households to dumping grounds, waste can be found all over Nairobi, a clear sign of the struggle the county is having with waste management. The main landfills, like Boma in Dandora, are near or beyond full capacity. Where there is regulation about dumping rubbish in public spaces, there is neither enforcement nor a sustainable alternative for people. This means waste producers and garbage collectors are dumping their rubbish in unregulated public spaces and/or in the rivers or sites unsuitable for rubbish. How might we reduce the amount of waste that gets to the dumping site?


Using design to create sustainable change within the waste management domain


UX / UI / Designer

Tosh Mukei

1. Understanding

Understanding the processes around waste management to help us uncover issues we could address through gamification

We began with desktop research to better understand the context we would be designing for. What we discovered informed how we planned our research and how we refined our challenge.

How might we incentivize and encourage the sorting of waste from households and learning institutions to help reduce the amount of waste that gets to the dumping site?

Key Insights from our Desk Research

As the biggest producers of waste, households lack awareness and education on the proper ways to deal with waste from the point of generation. Waste management at the household level involves collectively throwing away garbage, regardless of what type it is.

Waste sorting at source is the primary initial step in waste management as it reduces the amount of waste collected and disposed at the dumping site.

Many interventions have a short life cycle thus no deep impact. Focusing on teenagers will be key to sustainability and changing the future.

Reframing the Design Challenge

“How can we incentivise and encourage sorting of waste in households and learning institutions”

2. Empathy

To better understand the waste ecosystem we carried out field research with different stakeholders including households, learning institutions, garbage collectors, junk dealers and recyclers. The research involved conducting contextual interviews, group interviews, making contextual observations and engaging them with design activities

Research Objectives

  • -Uncover attitudes and perceptions towards Waste Management
  • -Understand types of waste generated in households and institutions
  • -Understand what waste management methods are practised
  • -Design models to incentivize better waste management practices


Desktop Research

Research Participants

Tosh Mukei
House workers
Tosh Mukei
Tosh Mukei
Tosh Mukei
Garbage collectors
Tosh Mukei
Junk dealers
Tosh Mukei


From all 3 income levels to understand whether their locations affect how they perceive waste and waste management.


To understand what they learn about waste management and what practices they use

Garbage Collectors

To understand their work, the challenges they face and uncover any differences in how they collect

Junk Dealers & Recyclers

To understand what they do and how they make money

Research Locations


This is where the largest landfill in Nairobi is, which has made it the subject of many waste management interventions. The participants here also represented our low-income earners demographic.

Nyayo Estate

The second-largest housing scheme in Africa is hailed as one of the cleanest residential areas. We were keen to investigate the systems and behaviours that set Nyayo estate apart as a reference point in Africa. The participants here represented our middle-income earners demographic.

Kilimani & Loresho

To learn whether the challenges and behaviours of individuals in households & learning institutions located in high/middle-income areas differ from the rest.

3. Define

After carrying out research we went through a structured synthesis process which led us to 6 main insights. We then created an accompanying opportunity area for every insight. The insights were divided into the following broad themes:

Household Sorting

Despite people knowing different types of waste, they find sorting tedious. This demotivates individuals in households from engaging in proper waste management practices. This is further worsened by the fact that garbage collectors are likely to mix all sorted waste either in hand carts (mkokotenis) or in garbage tracks. Besides, proper facilities to handle the different types of waste at the household level are lacking. Waste is then not sorted at the source which means a lot of recyclable waste ends up at the dumping site.

“I can sort but after sorting, the person that picks the garbage mixes them all again so what’s the point of sorting?” — Salon owner, Dandora

HMW change the perception of sorting in households from tedious & time consuming to a natural & effortless act?

Sustainable Waste Management Practices in Schools

Schools are an incubator for building value systems where students learn by example from teachers. However, most schools use waste management as a form of punishment creating a negative perception towards sorting practices both at home and at school.

“How else can we punish students if not through cleaning? Beating them is not allowed anymore.” — High school teacher

HMW leverage teachers’ influence to create a new basic standard of waste management practices in schools that encourages environmental sustainability?

HMW change the narrative of waste management in schools to “Your waste is your responsibility”?

Knowledge Gap

Households and institutions lack adequate information on proper waste management practices yet the leadership within waste management departments has a vast knowledge of all types of solid waste management. Also, most people do not know how to properly handle and dispose of hazardous e-waste which is harmful to both human beings and the environment in general.

“We can talk about e-waste for the whole day. The issue is huge as people own a lot of electronics both at home and work and yet they don’t know how to dispose of it well.” E-waste Center Manager

HMW best highlight the effects of poor waste management to incentivize better waste management within households and in communities?

Unprofitable Business Model for Garbage Collectors

Garbage collectors charge a fixed fee to collect waste from households. The waste collected is then sorted into different categories which are then sold. Any waste deemed non-valuable is transported by hand carts (mkokotenis) to different disposal points. The money collected from households and selling of sorted waste is then used by the garbage collectors for their livelihood.

“Our work is like a free service to the community. It’s not sustainable. What we get is not enough to support our livelihood.” Garbage collector, Dandora

HMW create a model for garbage collection businesses that can offer sustainable livelihoods?

Exposure to Health Risks

There are lots of health risks involved in waste collection. These include the handling of broken glass and handling of hazardous e-waste which exposes garbage collectors to toxic materials such as lead and mercury contaminants. Despite this, neither do the people handling waste own any protective gear nor do they practice proper safety measures.

“We don’t use protective gear like gloves or gumboots because we can’t afford them” Garbage collector, Dandora

Disconnect Between Stakeholders

Conflicting practices and frameworks within the different stakeholders involved in handling waste hinder the whole process of waste management. The enforcement of waste management policies on the ground is administered differently based on who you know. This creates frustrations and inefficiencies in the implementation of proper waste management practices. Recycling companies thus find it difficult to get affordable raw materials from sorted waste products.

“Since waste is not sorted at the source we get raw material that is tampered with and not of good quality. This affects the whole process of recycling.”- Recycler

4. Ideate

The opportunity areas that we found in the generative research phase were further explored during the Go Global 2019 program with students from the Innovation Design Engineering (IDE) course from Royal College of the Arts (RCA) and Imperial College London, students from Gearbox and designers from the Nairobi Design Community. During the program, different ideas were tested and explored together with the users, leading to 6 different concepts.

5. Concept development

After evaluating the different concepts based on their desirability, viability and feasibility we selected one called Vituu to proceed with. Vituu is a logistics platform that facilitates the waste enriching, value addition and 3Rs (reuse, reduce, recycle) value chain. It was based on the insight on the disconnect between stakeholders.

“How can we incentivise and encourage sorting of waste in households and learning institutions”

We carried out research once more to further understand this domain and uncovered insights that can be divided into 4:

The waste journey from a broker to a recycler is not transparent. There’s no payment structure in place and remittances are inconsistent. This is a predatory model that allows informed middle-men to take advantage of setting the market prices that are beneficial to them.

“We, the collectors, don’t know what the recyclers need. Those guys who buy from us understand what the recyclers want and come up with prices.”- Garbage collector

The network of stakeholders who derive value from waste is loosely established. The barrier to entry in this business is high since its success is heavily reliant on whom you know. This limits the number of people one can buy/sell from, thus affecting the amount of income they can make and lowering the potential of the value addition ecosystem

“I trust that whenever I call recyclers, they’ll come and buy all my waste. They are my priority. ” — Collector

There is no standardized process for material sourcing and sorting. Different stakeholders have different ways of measuring quality. Garbage collectors source and sort valuable waste based on their assumed understanding of what might be needed in the market. This sometimes leads to recyclers rejecting the waste brought to them, since they are not up to the required standard for them to recycle. When this happens and collectors don’t sell waste they collected and sorted, they run losses in both money and time.

“A driver has to be accompanied by 3 people to sort the waste who ensure that the plastic material they bring has at most 5% waste. That is how I ensure I get more quality material and less waste.”- Richard

The transportation process is highly dependent on several variables like loading, offloading and movement. Waste is sorted before loading based on the collectors understanding. The process is then repeated by the recycler to select what they need. This repetition is due to distrust and an absent standard of measuring the quality of waste.

“ It takes 5–6 hours to complete the loading process because they need to sort the waste again to take what they consider as valuable to them. ” — Ndegwa