Nelly Gesare

So much consumption brought by convenience brings a waste management crisis

Interview with Nelly Gesare SDGs activist and Founder Green Thing, a sustainable products company in Nairobi, Kenya

 

Green Thing Sounds cool, what’s the inspiration behind it?

Green Thing should have been a TV programme showcasing different conservation efforts in kenya, that was the plan. It was a supposed to be a platform to tell positive conservation stories people are engaged in every day. With a background in journalism I wanted to produce cutting edge content that would make an impact in the society, but it turned out to be my entry point into environmentalism, sustainable living and awareness creation.

Green Thing is now a movement and a sustainable products shop.

Plastic pollution is a concern to all of us or at least many of us, what is Green Thing doing differently to act on plastic pollution?

First is to domesticate the problem, then come up with a solution. So much consumption brought by convenience brings a waste management crisis and luck of a proper waste management policy makes worse the situation. Green Thing is involved in producing conversation starters by selling eco-friendly products which are great alternatives to replacing single-use plastics, products like metal straws and bamboo toothbrushes among others.

Green thing is not just after offering a product but provoking people’s minds about the products they use every day, like a plastic toothbrush whose impact in the environment is massive. Through our sustainable living workshops, we demonstrate ways people can make things at home or reuse items instead of having to always buy new ones.

 

DIY Mouthwash by Green Thing. Photo courtesy

Is sustainability a buzzword?

Yes, positively and negatively.

Sustainability is becoming a trend, it’s one of my favorite trends, one that is going make sure we have a clean environment and sustainable development and I hope we achieve proper social and economic benefit from it, and also learn that the environment has benefits.

On the other hand, It’s becoming mandatory that companies have sustainability clauses and this puts chances of #greenwashing a lot higher, some companies will lie they have moved to suitability just to be seen that they are concerned about the environment and sustainability while its business as usual.

In your blog about privilege and sustainability you state that not everyone is privileged enough right to have a choice to switch to bamboo toothbrushes, metal straws, reusable sukuma wiki bags or any eco-friendly alternative. Do you feel switching to sustainable products can be hindered by ones social economic status?

Absolutely yes, I feel it’s a matter of priorities, is it a priority moving to a place with running water or having a bamboo toothbrush? Social economic status affects how somebody can access primary needs; food, clothing, shelter. If those basic needs are compromised the shift to sustainable living can be hard to achieve.

What’s the secret to living a waste free life?

There is actually nothing like living a waste free life, there will always be some form of waste in our lives, some little some more. What we can do is reduce the amount of waste we produce. Every week when handing out your trash take stock of it and see how you can cut it. Consumerism drives us into random unnecessary buying, we need to reuse as much as we can and refuse new single-use items like plastic bottles, we don’t need to buy everything. Another way to reduce our waste is by asking companies to be responsible for the end of life of their products, we can’t do it for them. Green Thing refill method ensures that all its 5 litre soap plastic jerry cans are reused and do not end up in the environment, before we buy new ones we ensure to ask our customers to always bring back their containers for refilling.

Dandora Dumpsite receives over 2000 tonnes of waste every day; clothes, plastic, food, electronic, wood etc, why do you think we are producing so much waste and how can we reverse the situation?

I feel like we do not know better, we don’t question things and if we composted much of the biodegradable waste it wouldn’t be ending up in the landfills. When a product is designed to be wasted there is really not much we can do as consumers, we must continue demanding that industries design environmentally friendly products that have a higher reusability and recyclability characteristics.

 

Smoke seen rising from burning waste in Nairobi’s Dandora dumpsite. Kenya’s plastic bag ban has reduced the amount of plastic waste ending up here, but there’s still plenty. Photo James Wakibia

Do you foresee a day when landfills will get smaller?

Yes, but It will take years. We need to have initiatives to understand different channels to manage waste, like clothes swapping, recycling, composting etc. they say one’s man’s waste is another man’s treasure. People are starting to put value in recycling, I recycle textiles to make beautiful bags and if we had hundreds of ‘me’ then we reduce amounts of textiles ending up in the dumpsite. This kind of landfills pose a public health problem because of so much pollution, its actually not a question of landfills becoming smaller but one of reducing the amount of toxicity generated there. Communities living around dumpsites are adversely affected by pollution.

When we met at a coffee shop in Nakuru town sometimes ago, you gave me a Green Thing stainless steel straw; I think I still have it. How do you feel being the only soul sucking a drink from a steel straw when everyone else in the restaurant is using a single-use plastic straw?

Its confronting, it’s like a quiet activism, if somebody sees me I think they ask themselves a lot of questions. I feel I am starting an important conversation, to change people’s mindsets and hopefully this will bring a sustainable change.

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Water bottles by Green Thing.

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