Material recovery facilities for waste in Kenya

Written by
Dr Ayub Macharia
Recovered valuables from waste


A Material Recovery Facility (MRF) is a place where solid waste are delivered to be separated, processed and stored for later use as raw materials for remanufacturing and reprocessing (Dubanowitz, A. J., 2000). MRF is a method of integrated waste management, designed to reduce the volume of final disposal requirements at sanitary landfill sites by optimizing solid waste management in order to maintain a sustainable environment.

Material recovery facilities (MRFs) are a key infrastructure prioritized by the Sustainable Waste Management Act (SWMA) of 2022. A material recovery facility is defined by section 2 of SWMA 2022 as “a specialized facility that receives, separates and prepares recyclable material for marketing to end user manufacturers.” Section 2 further explains that MRFs shall be operated by waste service providers (WSPs).

Solid waste management system

According to ADB 2013, the basic solid waste management system is made up of five components namely waste generation, storage, collection, processing and treatment, and disposal.
1. Waste is generated from residences, institutions, markets, factories, business and commercial establishments, and by street sweepings among others. The amounts, volumes and rate of waste generation is proportional to the level of economic activity and development. For instance, rural areas generate less recyclable waste than urban areas due to differing levels of consumption.

2. The waste generator is expected to store waste temporaliry using diverse containers of different capacities, such as plastic bags; cans; sacks; locally crafted baskets; and bins made from steel, concrete, and high-density polyethylene (HDPE).

3. Waste Service Providers collect the waste from point of generation using single unit, compartmentalized or compactor trucks at frequencies of once or several times per week. In some instances especially in poor households such as slums man pulled carts are used. Generally a combination of government-owned trucks in small towns and cities, and by contractors in large urban areas are the main players in waste collection.

4. Composting plants, MRFs, and treatment facilities are found within the processing and treatment component and prioritize waste recovery.

5. Waste disposal in developing countries is done mainly in open dumps and in some sanitary landfills.

The waste management system is complex and include aspects such as recovery of recyclables at source for reuse, sale and resale to/at junk shops; burial, open dumping, burning, and littering of uncollected waste; unsanitary picking at waste bins and open dumps. This system is implemented in varying scales and efficiency in different towns, cities, and counties (ADB, 2013).

Establishment of MRFs

The Counties are tasked to ensure that material recovery facilities are established and operational. The SWMA, 2022, Section 9.4 tasks counties to “provide central collection centres for materials that can be recycled.” Further, Section 5 tasks counties to “establish waste management infrastructure to promote source segregation, collection, reuse and set up for materials recovery.”

The role of Counties in MRFs is reiterated further in Section 14 where each county is tasked to establish MRFs to be used for final sorting, segregation, composting and recycling of waste generated or transported in the County and transport the residual waste to a long term storage or disposal facility or landfill.” In this regard, it is clear that an MRF is not a waste disposal site and Counties are tasked to ensure residual waste does not accumulate within MRFs.

Section17 also reiterates the role of counties to establish waste recovery and recycling facilities and sanitary landfills for the disposal of non-recoverable waste.

Types of MRFs

According to ADB 2013, MRFs can be considered in two categories namely clean and dirty MRFs. Clean MRFs are usually established in communities or cities where a high degree of segregation at source and separate collection of biodegradables and nonbiodegradables are implemented. Dirty MRFs on the other hand receive dirty or non source separated waste.

The products of clean and dirty MRFs are essentially the same, although paper products recovered from dirty MRFs are likely to be contaminated. Dirty MRFs are more common and could have a composting component to process the segregated biodegradable component. Emission of foul odor are common in the operation of dirty MRFs (ibid, p 4).

In Kenya, the MRFs are expected to receive waste from point of generation and mainly the non hazardous fractions. All waste generators are required by law to segregate their waste at source (section12:1-2; 20:1a) before giving it to the WSPs (section12.3; 20:1b) who are expected to move it to the MRFs. Waste segregation was prioritized in the SWMA 2022 to ensure that waste was not contaminated, and hence retain its high value, for recovery and use within the other steps of the value chain. In this regard, the type of MRF anticipated by the SWMA 2022 is a clean MRF.

According to SWMA 2022, any waste generator who fails to segregate waste at source commits an offence and if convicted could be fined upto Kshs 20,000 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 6 months or both (section 20). This penalty will contribute to ensuring that there will be a big proportion of clean MRFs in Kenya to increase the volumes of waste recovered and hence reduce waste to dumpsites.

However, there is still a possibility of operating some dirty MRFs in Kenya especially by County Governments. The streets have to be swept and the waste generated from this activity is mainly mixed waste. In addition, the SWMA 2022 provides that the residual waste from the MRFs will be transported to the landfill (section 14.2). Since the clean MRFs may not have employed appropriate mechanization to recover all the valuables from waste, it is expected that the County Government shall receive the residual waste in a dirty MRF preferably to be established at the landfill site and deploy some advanced mechanization to recover more valuables from the residual waste before condemning the unrecoverable waste for final disposal in the landfill.

Licensing and operations of Material Recovery Facilities

Section 14.3 of the SWMA, 2022 provides that the MRFs shall be licenced by NEMA. Hence these facilities are expected to adhere to strict environmental standards ensuring that they are not disposal sites.
To clarify the role of MRFs, the Cabinet Secretary in consultation with NEMA and County Governments are tasked by section 14.4 to make regulations for the establishment and proper management of material recovery facilities. This implies that further clarity will be provided whether MRFs will be publicly or privately owned including their operating standards.

It is also crucial to note that all facilities operating in counties also receive approvals from the County. For instance an MRF will need to liaise with the County since they will be implementing a role devolved to counties. Section 9.9 directs Counties to maintain a register of all waste service providers operating within their boundaries. This implies that the MRFs are heavily subject to directions of the county, afterall they are handling waste generated within the county. The residual waste has to be transported to the sanitary landfill whch is a county facility (section 17b). This aspect will be elaborated further in the County legislation.

The county also has overarching power over the WSPs since section17g provides that counties shall maintain data on waste management by WSPs and share the information at least once in each year through the national waste information system maintained by NEMA. This further suggests that the County is mandated to know all the waste management operations of the MRF as it will report on the same to the national government. The County legislation is expected to elaborate the nature of data expected from MRFs and how it shall be shared.

Why are MRFs so important in the SWMA 2022?

MRFs constitute the first stop where segregated waste is taken (section14.2). Unlike in the case of the linear model where all waste was taken to the dumpsite, the new dispensation requires waste to be taken to the MRF where further sorting would be done to recover all valuables which will be destined for composting, reuse or recycling.

It is important to note that in the Kenyan scenario, only two non-hazardous waste fractions are to be segregated from the point of generation, that is wet (organic) waste and dry (mixed non-organic) waste (Section12.1). This segregated waste shall be placed in properly labeled and color coded receptacle, bins, containers and bags (Section12.2).

Section 12.4 also provides that hazardous waste will be handled and managed as prescribed by the Environmental Management and Coordination Act 1999 and any other relevant written law. We are aware that households generate hazardous waste such as face muscs, pharmaceuticals and sanitary waste. Hence we expect that the revised waste management regulations (2006) shall provide further advisory on waste segregation including the number of fractions at household level to accomondate these hazardous waste fractions. This special waste is in very small quantities and its separation from the rest of the waste is mainly to avoid contamination of the other waste by enhanced moisture or presence of disease causing organisms.

Hence segregation from the point of waste generation will only be partial. The MRFs are expected to be places receiving this partially segregated waste, and are expected to subject the waste to further sorting to recover the valuables. In this regard, at the MRF, we expect that the waste would be sorted to give diverse waste fractions, and not the two fractions that came from the point of generation.

At the onset, two types of clean MRFs are evident, one dealing with wet organic waste and the other dealing with the mixed dry waste. We appreciate that these two wastes require different treatments, as their composition differ.

For instance the Organic waste fraction should be taken to specialized MRFs to be composted to develop organic manure (Kadil A.A. et al, 2016). It is also worth noting that the volume of organic fraction in Kenya is between 50-65% depending on site of generation. The waste produce pungent smell while decomposing and hence location for organic waste associated Infrastructure is of critical concern. The composting facilities may need to be cited far away from residential areas to avoid the pungent smell and also get the extended space needed to process these huge volumes of waste.

However, its also crucial to note that modern technologies have been developed whereby the pungent smell is removed or blocked from reaching the people. For instance, the black soldier fly farming in green houses is now being done even in residential areas with minimal public complaints. This implies that with proper mitigation procedures and choice of appropriate technologies, the composting sites can be cited anywhere.

The black soldier fly technology is a very encouraging development as circular economy requires refocus on entire carbon footprint of an activity. If waste can be procesed near its point of generation, this would imply reductions in time, fuel and green house gas (GHG) emissions (Dortmans B.M.A, 2017). Any portion of waste recovered is a great win for circular economy, and if black soldier fly technology could commence this recovery within the small scale local establishments, investing in many such small facilities would sustainably recover more volumes of organic waste while creating jobs and enhancing livelihood to the community.

The MRFs will also receive mixed dry waste which will need to be sorted into different items for sale to recyclers, such as plastics, glass, paper, aluminium, textiles and metals just to mention a few. Sorting these items this way contributes to value addition and hence fetching more money from the recyclers.

More value can be added by sorting the items into more refined fractions such as for the case of plastics into the two main categories of blow and injection varieties for the six main categories comprising of Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE), High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE), Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC or Vinyl), Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE), Polypropylene (PP), Polystyrene (PS or Styrofoam) and others. Each of these polymers fetch a different price from the recyclers. Value addition is also improved when one sells plastics as flakes or pellets instead of just sorting and selling.

In case of paper, the MRF may fetch more money if waste paper is sorted into cartons, white paper, colored paper, newspapers and magazines, since each has a different price. The same is true for metals and other waste fractions.

Capacity within MRFs

It is important to note that sorting the waste into diverse fractions at the MRF requires expertise, appropriate capacity development and experience. In this regard, the recyclers or the extended producer responsibility schemes are challenged to invest in imparting this capacity to the MRFs. The national and county governments as well as development partners are called upon to consider this capacity building intervention as crucial to ensure that the players within the MRF derive optimal returns for their efforts at the MRF. This will help accelerate appreciation of the transition to circular economy, considering the raised incomes for the players.

It is also possible for the MRFs to venture into recycling albeit in a small scale. For instance if an MRF has adequate space, the proprietor could venture into using the recovered polymers to make small sized items such as buttons, clothe hangers, pegs, spoons among other things that do not require use of complicated machinery. There is resident capacity within the light industry sector in Kenya to develop machinery for making these items. Adoption of these light machinery will help Kenyans transition from waste service providers into producers where they play active role in recycling, and indeed making use of the materials they recover to make new items. This would create more local markets for the recovered materials.

Reuse of recovered materials is also a venture that MRFs could consider. Some of the items recovered could be reused without any improvement. Hence MRFs should also consider establishing centres where they could resell recovered items for reuse. This would increase the incomes for the MRFs as no energy or effort has been invested in upgrading a recovered item to be reused, just sorting and placing in the market.

Next steps in transitioning waste management through MRFs

Kenya has been pursuing a linear model of waste management whereby all mixed waste was taken to open dumpsites. Every county have a place that can be regarded as a legal or illegal dumpsite.

The concept of Material Recovery Facility is new and these facilities are not in existence. However since the SWMA 2022 has been enacted, counties have no choice but to comply with this law and cascade the same to all people and institutions. This implies that MRFs have to be put in place as a matter of urgency. For this to happen quickly, counties are expected to be innovatively consider diverse options both short term and long term.

One of the options available to counties to hasten the transition to circular economy through MRFs is to reorganize the current dumpsites into a clean and dirty MRFs and reserve an area to be developed as a sanitary landfill. This is an easier option as the waste transportation trucks are used to taking their waste to dumpsites and will now only be required to deliver this waste while sorted. This option is the easiest to implement as it is a short term intervention that does not initially require a lot of funding. The county can make use of the current collectors who eke a living from dumpsites to sort and compost the waste. However, the counties would need to invest in capacity building for waste service providers, waste sorters and composters at the dumpsite to optimize their operations.

The County will also need to invest in long term measures to establish better MRFs. Hence they have to identify land, develop better MRF designs, seek appropriate licensing from NEMA and put up appropriate infrastructure. These long term interventions are expensive and may take time.

The Counties may also consider encouraging and incentivising the private sector to invest in MRFs. This is an easier and quick option without major financial demand on Counties. However, the private sector players may need to be assured that their supply of waste is guaranteed to sustain the investment.


Kenya has ushered in a new dispensation where waste has to pass through MRFs to recover valuables and hence reduce disposal in dumpsites. MRFs are unique facilities needed near the point of waste generation, and currently do not exist. It may take time for the country to have adequate MRFs but involvement of the private sector may be an easier, cheaper and more sustainable option which counties may need to prioritize.


Asia Development Bank (2013) Materials recovery facility tool kit. Mandaluyong City, Philippines.

Citrasari et al 2019 The design of Material Recovery Facilities (MRF)-based Temporary Disposal Site (TDS) at Universitas Airlangga campus C. IOP Conf. Ser.: Earth Environ. Sci. 245 012010.

Dortmans B.M.A., Diener S., Verstappen B.M., Zurbrügg C. (2017) Black Soldier Fly Biowaste Processing – A Step-by-Step Guide Eawag: Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, Dübendorf, Switzerland

Dubanowitz, A. J., 2000. Design of a Material Recovery Facility (MRF) for Processing the Recyclable Materials of New York City’s Municipal Solid Waste. Master Thesis. Columbia University.

Government of Kenya, 2022, Sustainable Waste Management Act (SWMA). Government Printer

Government of Kenya, 2021, Sustainable Waste Management policy (SWM). Government Printer

Kadir et al 2016 An Overview of Organic Waste in Composting. Downloaded on on 25th July 2022.

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