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Helping communities do it for themselves

Not all communities benefit from having direct support from funded waste management initiatives. That is why the Chartered Institution of Wastes Manage­ment’s outgoing president, Professor David Wilson, saw the UK organisation decide to sponsor development of the WasteAid Toolkit.

A free online guide to community-led waste management and recycling, the charity’s toolkit provides straightforward advice on the what, why and how of simple waste management, including 12 illustrated step-by-step guides for turning waste into useful products. In its first year, the toolkit was visited by 56,300 people in 202 countries, and has been downloaded in whole or in part 6,945 times.

Earlier this year the toolkit was awarded third prize in the International Solid Waste Association’s (ISWA) publication award. The prize was a free ticket to attend the association’s congress in Kuala Lumpur, which this year had a focus on waste in developing countries.

South-east Asia

WasteAid took the opportunity of being in Asia to form new partnerships with grassroots organisations in the region, and is actively seek­ing funding to be able to deliver more initiatives that turn waste from an environmental problem into an economic opportunity.

In Indonesia, for example, WasteAid has been forging links with an empowerment organisation that trains disadvantaged women in essential life and employment skills. It is planning to expand the range of learning opportunities for students, while also working to protect their valuable and vulnerable environment from the scourge of unmanaged waste.

Discussions are already taking place around appropriate technologies to share and how best to achieve a cleaner environment.

The group took WasteAid to visit a local dumpsite, where high-end hotels are dumping champagne bottles and flower arrangement foam waste from weddings, among other mixed waste. Smoke billowed from the dump­site while feral animals scavenged for food scraps. An unpalatable sight, this was not a rare occurrence: where governments fail to provide a waste management service, communities will continue to be affected by the perils of poorly managed waste.

Dry riverbeds in particular attract a lot of open dumping and, with the rainy season imminent, the scale of the problem was abun­dantly clear. Most of the plastic in the marine environment comes from land-based sources, and it does not take a long trip inland from tourist-friendly pristine beaches to see the threat of pollution hanging over the fragile environment.

Banning plastic bags, straws and polystyrene is a start, but such PR-friendly commitments do little to stem the overwhelming tide of waste. WasteAid is aiming to work with its new Asian partners to run a pilot training scheme for municipal officers in the wider importance of waste management, and upskilling local community-based organisations to run small-scale, sustainable waste management projects.

Uganda

One of the shining stars of waste management in sub-Saharan Africa is Sam Taremwa from Uganda. WasteAid had a chance to catch up with him at the ISWA congress to hear about how he is leading his country towards genuinely sustainable waste management.

Taremwa originally presented his idea for a national waste board to the minister of water and environment in Kampala, who understood the vision and accepted Taremwa’s proposal to form the not-for-profit Uganda Waste Management and Administration Confedera­tion (UWMAC).

The model Taremwa has developed for UWMAC embraces individual approaches to waste management – from the desperate mother picking recyclable materials from the street, through to the national government, international donors and the private sector.

In 2016, UWMAC activities were officially launched with support from the Kampala Cap­ital City Authority (KCCA), with the primary objectives of capacity-building, training, net­working, knowledge-sharing and advocacy. The aim of these activities was to create an environment for investment in waste manage­ment.

Taremwa described the current waste man­agement situation in Uganda: “When you come to Uganda and talk about waste management, everyone is talking about a different version. There are a hundred ways. The industry is dominated by the informal sector, which undertakes maybe 95% of activities. The formal sector is overpowered by the informal so that, even if a good system comes about, the informal sector fights back.”

This is not unusual in a country with severe poverty, where large numbers of people rely on the value of recyclable materials for their liveli­hoods.

“Say that the KCCA comes up with a plan to improve waste management. It starts many initiatives – but what is the role of the author­ity? Is it implementer? Enforcer? With such little clarity of roles and lack of ownership within the industry, initiatives die along the way.”

We discuss WasteAid’s preferred approach of community-led waste management. “Com­munity waste management has its merits,” says Taremwa, “but you still need some form of institutional leadership. With such a large informal industry across Uganda, the challenge is that different players pull in all directions.”

Taremwa’s aim for UWMAC is to carry out one nationwide activity. He is aiming to identify the key stakeholders in waste management and establish what is currently happening to the waste: “Once we know where we are, we can determine where we want to go and, impor­tantly, how we are going to get there.”

His plan is to deliver a comprehensive report that includes all waste (even the problematic waste streams that are often ignored) and to ensure that the process is inclusive, with participation from the donor world, government, municipal authorities, academia, civil society, religious organisations and independent waste pickers.

The United Nations Environment Pro­gramme has recently published a report on waste in Africa. “While its African Waste Out­look is a good start,” says Taremwa, “the waste data available for African countries is very patchy indeed and is, in many cases, drastically out of date.”

His plan for UWMAC is to develop a road-map, without leaving anyone behind. There are five regions in Uganda and Taremwa has been working with stakeholders in each area. He is planning to run 23 workshops with represent­ative groups, to collect valuable information about the current state of play across the coun­try.

During the process, Taremwa is also aiming to make a documentary about the waste situation in Uganda to help motivate and encour­age appropriate investment.

With a gargantuan task ahead of him, Taremwa is impressively upbeat. “I have a clear vision. Waste is a good resource but we have to manage it properly to stop it causing pollution. This is my goal and I gladly welcome all sup­port to help achieve a better Uganda, and even­tually, a cleaner Africa.”

Zoë Lenkiewicz is head of programmes and engagement at WasteAid

Opportunities to Get Involved

The WasteAid approach to partnerships in developing countries is to use no-cost or low-cost techniques, and only equipment and tools that are locally available. Even so, the scale of the challenge means that some investment is needed in every community without waste management.

Fundraising therefore remains a priority, and an expanding volunteer and supporter base and increased interest in plastic pollution are helping the charity to grow.

The organisation is also seeking partners to help innovate and create ways to reprocess plastic waste into useful products, using techniques that are appropriate (preferably without the need for a reliable electricity supply). Transporting low-value materials long distances has significant financial and climate changing impacts, and so the charity is focusing on creating local markets for the waste materials that communities produce.

WasteAid has created an information pack for people to get started with their support, including a template presentation, fact sheet and fundraising ideas. Please contact info@ wasteaid.org.uk for details about volunteering and fundraising opportunities, and for ideas and inspiration to help WasteAid share recycling skills around the world.

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