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How Gambians are getting by with help from friends

As a global development issue, the positive benefits of waste management need to be understood and adequately valued. The WasteAid UK charity promotes waste man­agement as a tool for community resilience, improved health and economic opportunity.

Where government is weak, communities need to be more self-reliant in identifying the causes of their problems and pursuing solu­tions. Failure results in the mass migration we now see in the news.

During a week spent with community lead­ers from sub-Saharan Africa and beyond, the topics of self-reliance and community resilience were high on the agenda. Representatives from each country identified sanitation and environ­mental protection, youth employment and gender equality as key factors to developing resilient communities.

The Arkleton Trust, based in Reading, sup­ports sustainable development through tar­geted international exchanges. For the first time in its history, the trust brought 72 commu­nity leaders to Gambia to share more broadly their experiences of community resilience. WasteAid UK was invited to run three of the six days, to discuss and demonstrate appropriate tools for community waste management.

While much noise is currently being made in the UK about waste crime, for some two billion people, indiscriminate waste dumping is the absolute norm. With no regulated waste dis­posal sites – indeed, no waste regulation what­soever – people have no option other than to dump or burn their waste. The collapse of rub­bish dumps in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (115 dead, March 2017) and Colombo, Sri Lanka (46 dead, 145 homes destroyed, April 2017) are all too common tragedies caused by the ongoing inability to take the problem seriously.

Waste dumping not only causes serious pub­lic health crises but, critically, represents a huge missed economic opportunity. Through recy­cling entrepreneurship, the most vulnerable in society – typically youth, women and those with disabilities – can be given a lifeline. Small busi­ness loans enable people to set up recycling firms, taking problematic waste streams and turning them into a sustainable income stream.

Given the opportunity, most people choose to be self-sufficient. Where training and employment prospects are few and far between, making a modest living from recycling waste is a welcome boost to otherwise low earning expectations.

“For every £1 invested in waste management initiatives, communities can gain £5-£10 in health benefits, flood prevention, economic growth and the broader benefits of community resilience.”

The lack of economic opportunity in Gambia and elsewhere can have a devastating effect on families, who resort to selling all they have to cover the passage of a son to Europe. Those who reach Europe find it almost impossible to find worthwhile employment without the nec­essary papers and become stranded, unable to report the heartbreaking reality to their par­ents, wives and children.

Building sustainable livelihoods in poor countries is not just a ‘nice to have’ – it is the option that has a strong chance of a positive outcome. Often, all it takes is a small amount of seed funding and a little training to set some­one up with a waste recycling business that can support their whole family.

After the seminar, WasteAid visited the work-yard of project partner Women’s Initia­tive The Gambia (WIG), in the busy market area of Brikama. The charity was given a tour of a fishmeal processing plant and the working area’s new concrete floor the team has invested in since its last visit.

Mike Webster, WasteAid UK’s chief execu­tive, has previously worked with WIG to teach young women how to generate a modest income from waste. They work in two teams, alternately collecting woody waste (peanut shells, coconut husks and mango leaves) and producing charcoal briquettes, sharing the income equally.

Wanting to expand to other communities, WIG supplied briquette-making kits and train­ing to women in five other villages. The kits are elegant in their simplicity: a few pieces of metal welded together and a small block of wood with a hole drilled in the centre. Their fabrication requires no specialist skills and can be made anywhere, provided there is a welder nearby.

The technology is simple, appropriate and massively popular, but production is still well-below capacity. The reasons are three-fold.

First, the team cannot collect enough woody feedstock to keep up with demand. The waste is widely available and abundant but, without a motor vehicle, they are able to collect only small amounts from nearby neighbourhoods.

The second challenge is that more briquette moulds are needed. The women wait for their turn while others form briquettes to sell in the market. Despite the kits being low-cost, they still represent an investment that is unaffordable for many.

Finally, the hours that briquette-makers can work are limited because there is no shade for them to work under: the Gambian sun is fierce from midday until mid-afternoon. Without this simple yet currently unaffordable intervention, their earning potential remains stifled.

The income the women make from charcoal briquettes is reasonable for the area, with an earning potential of £2.60 per person per day, compared with an average national income of £2 per day. The barriers to growth may seem small to us but, when your income is so small, even a little cost is a lot.

Isatou Ceesay, executive director of WIG, was recently named on the list of Guardians of the Planet: 12 Women Environmentalists You Should Know. In her office, WasteAid calcu­lated that the cost of buying a vehicle and equipment to train five more teams and pro­vide briquette kits was £15,000.

There is an old saying that “nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something”. With two billion people living without waste management, there are plenty of ways to make an impact.

Waste intersects many global development themes including climate change, gender equality, poverty eradication, health and sani­tation, and economic opportunity. The Global Waste Management Outlook found that the costs to society exceed the financial costs per capita of proper waste management by a factor of 5-10.

By my optimistic interpretation, it means that, for every £1 invested in waste manage­ment initiatives where there are no such ser­vices, communities can gain between £5 and £10 in health benefits, flood prevention, eco­nomic growth and the broader benefits of com­munity resilience.


Growing up in poverty in Garoua, northern Cameroon, Pierre Kamsouloum had just one set of clothes, which he would wash every night ready for the next day.

Deciding to experiment with the waste plastic that was blighting his community, step-by-step Kamsouloum has developed a certified product and built a small sustainable business producing paving tiles. He now employs a small team and supplies his product to construction projects across the city.

Kamsouloum attended the WasteAid seminar in Gambia to share his experience of being a successful self-starting recycling entrepreneur, and to demonstrate his tile-making process to the other participants.

le professeur de plastique

le professeur de plastique


WasteAid is constantly thinking up new ways for people to help tackle the global waste crisis.

It has been heartened by the response from the UK waste industry so far, with Ed Cook, senior consultant at Resource Futures, and Dave Leeke, WasteAid associate, volunteering their time and expertise both in the UK and Gambia; Open Sky Data and CD Enviro generously raising money for its work; the CIWM and RWM funding projects directly; and supporters across the UK throwing themselves into fundraising activities including the Walk for Waste, Great ReCycle and even a sky dive.

The charity is currently preparing the next Walk for Waste, which this year will see teams take on Scafell Pike in the Lake District. You can help, either by joining the walk or sponsoring a friend. If you have already signed up, now is the time to set up a JustGiving page and get those pledges rolling in.

If your company would like to support a project directly, this is a robust opportunity to build a relationship with an established partner.

Zoë Lenkiewicz is head of communications for WasteAid UK

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