Africa – the second largest continent in the world, covering about one-fifth of the total land surface of Earth – is facing a waste crisis.
Many would argue that the surge of waste is a result of an exponential increase in population density, economic growth, and rapid urbanisation. Others would posit it is the lack of proper information on how waste can be managed from across the value chain – from each country’s government to various individuals generating waste. One fact that both parties agree to is that Africans are not consciously aware of how much waste they generate in a day. Consequently, most fast-developing mega cities in Africa now face a serious challenge with the collection, treatment, transportation, storage and eventual disposal of waste.
Regardless of the prevalent circumstances surrounding Africa’s waste crisis, there is a global movement to ensure that effective waste management methodologies and solutions are put in place to manage waste being generated on a daily basis.
The UN Environment Weighs in on the Waste Crisis in Africa
While attending the 2nd Conference of Parties (COP-2) Bamako Convention in Cote d’Ivoire in February 2018, the Africa regional director of United Nations (UN) Environment, Julliette Biao Koudenoukpo, called on all African countries to work in synergy with the private sector to better reinforce and drive actions against toxic waste dumping in Africa. In her words, “There is need to strengthen cooperation between the public and private sector, with a view to enhancing the effectiveness of the actions on ground.”
Koudenoukpo’s position on the African waste crisis was reinforced by the deputy executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, Ibrahim Thiaw. In his words, “Every year almost 50 million tonnes of electronic goods are illegally dumped globally. Whether the mountains of second-hand electronic goods that end up in African schools as donations are good intentions or just being dumped, without proper dismantling and disposal, the outcome is the same: polluting soil, water, food and air.”
According to the UN Environment, over 90 per cent of the waste generated in most developing countries ends up in dumpsites and landfills. As a result, the socio-economic opportunities of key resources that can be repurposed as an alternative resource for new products – viable plastics, paper, tyres/rubber, metals, glass, etc. – are lost to the African economies. This lack of proper waste management disposal and treatment process has also led to catastrophes in various dumpsites and landfills across Africa.
A recent example is the catastrophic collapse of the Koshe garbage landfill that claimed the lives of 115 people in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on March 11, 2017. Twelve months and eight days later, on February 19, 2018, the collapse of the Hulene garbage landfill killed 16 people in Maputo, Mozambique. Less than a month after, a fire broke out in the Olusosun dumpsite in Lagos, Nigeria as a result of methane build-up from accumulated waste.
Despite the active efforts of various African governments to manage the increasing volume of waste within their borders, there is a pivotal need for awareness, education, and enlightenment in their local populations. This was resounded by Thiaw when he acknowledged the need for concerted efforts, as no country or government can manage the massive volume of waste on its own. “We have a collective responsibility to safeguard communities from the environmental and health consequences of hazardous waste dumping,” Thiaw said.
It is clear that developing countries need reorientation on how waste can be an invaluable resource, and how simple acts of being environmentally conscious can together cause a positive impact on the environment. However, achieving this will require everyone in Africa to play their part in preserving the environment. One of the easiest ways to achieve this is through the 3Rs of Effective Waste Management.
Reduce, Reuse and Recycle: The Much-Needed Paradigm Shift
We all have future ambitions and expectations, however, have you ever wondered what the state of the environment you live in will be like in the next 20-25 years? This might sound rhetorical, but have you given any serious thought to how you are impacting the environment and what it will be like for the future generations? When we think about the future, we often think about having healthy families, a peaceful home, better career opportunities, and a more comfortable future. More often, we think about what we can get from our environment, and not what we can do to preserve and protect our environment.
The responsibility of managing waste is spread across every individual, community, manufacturer, businesses, and government bodies. The solution to the waste crisis, as well as having a direct positive impact on your environment, lies in the conceptual framework of the 3Rs – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.
You might be wondering how you can incorporate these principles in your daily life. They are not hard to implement. All you need is to make a small change in your daily lifestyle to reduce waste, so that less will go to landfills and you can reduce your carbon footprint. “The three R’s – reduce, reuse and recycle – all help to conserve natural resources, landfill space and energy as they aid the reduction the amount of waste we throw away.”
The first ‘R’ – Reduce – is the concept of minimising what is produced and consumed. If there is less waste, there will be fewer items to recycle, reuse or throw away. To implement this, it is important to ask yourself if the item is important enough for you to buy it, and if it is multi-use and can be reused.
The logic behind the second ‘R’ – Reuse – is simple to understand. Purchasing a multiuse item allows for reusability, which helps minimise single-use waste. Learning to reuse or repurpose items is also imperative to alleviate the waste crisis in your environment and across Africa.
The third ‘R’ – Recycling – refers to the process of transforming it into an alternative resource that can be remodelled into a new item. However, there are a few items that cannot be recycled, so it is important to learn what products can be recycled. The easiest way to start recycling is to only buy products made from recycled materials, as this invariably only leaves recyclables in the consumption and disposal cycle.
Visionscape: Pioneering the Implementation of 3Rs across Emerging Markets
To work and operate in an emerging market and make a positive impact in that environment, it is important to ensure that members of the host communities are aligned with being environmentally responsible. As such, environmental literacy is vital for any social investment.
Committed to providing innovative solutions across the environmental and waste management value chain on a global scale, the Visionscape Group has implemented a closed loop system that leverages ground-breaking technology and proven attributes, to tackle waste management challenges. With a growing demand for a holistic waste management infrastructure strategy within the African continent, Visionscape Sanitation Solutions has integrated the three-pronged approach of awareness, sensitisation and implementation of the 3Rs in the core of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) narrative.
To drive this, Visionscape has implemented the Visionscape Environmental Education Programme (VEEP), an educational intervention measure that prioritises environmental sustainability, environmental literacy and waste reduction across its stakeholders in the communities it operates. Primarily targeted at the future leaders of tomorrow, the programme aims to drive awareness and encourage participation of children, teachers, and parents within the waste management process, with a focus on recycling and waste reduction.
Visionscape’s strategy for the 3Rs is simple: Inform people about global issues; help them understand how the choices they make can have a positive or negative impact on the environment and how it will affect the future; and educate them on the ways to aid environmental sustainability and waste reduction. The VEEP reaches out to students, teachers and parents, providing a strong platform for these individuals to be educated and sensitised on easily applicable environmental awareness and sustainability techniques that can be applied in their everyday lives. The programme is then monitored and evaluated for impact.
Visionscape’s four step approach – learn, act, repeat and advocate – for the 3Rs is a simple but highly effective strategy that allows for a ripple effect across all stakeholder groups. A classic example would be a Margaret learning about waste management in school. Excited to implement what she has learnt, Margaret makes it her duty to teach and encourage her parents, siblings and friends about reducing, reusing, and recycling when they can, and as often as they can. The advocacy continues from there, amplifying the ripple effect and impacting the lives of millions of individuals, while successfully getting us closer to achieving environmental sustainability and waste reduction.
Based on its business and sustainability objectives, Visionscape has a target to directly reach and impact the lives of 10,000 individuals every year, inclusive of schools and local communities. Having successfully surpassed this target for the year 2018, Visionscape is steadfastly continuing efforts to advocate the 3Rs through its community clean-up efforts, brochures, manuals and toolkits on environmental literacy.
The Future of Waste Management in Emerging Markets
It is imperative that globally, everyone starts taking ownership of the amount of waste they generate and adopt a think-before-you-act approach to buying and disposing items.
The attainment of a future where minimal waste is generated, and carbon footprint is reduced through the implementation of the 3Rs, begins with educating and sensitising the children of today, particularly in emerging markets. This will play an instrumental role in environmental sustainability and waste reduction, as the children of today are the custodians of the Earth tomorrow. As such, it is important to start sensitising the growing population as early as possible, so responsible waste management practices are ingrained in their everyday lives starting from today, a model that has been seen across the developed world
This cue should be taken from Visionscape when it comes to environmental literacy. Environmental curriculums need to be integrated into the academic syllabus of students, so they learn how to manage their waste from an early age.
In conclusion, environmentally sustainable development and waste reduction in Africa is attainable only when we start to consider how the decisions we make today – as individuals and as a people – will affect the environment tomorrow. The waste management reform required to accelerate waste reduction in Africa starts with a conscious participation and commitment from governments, businesses, communities and individuals. The million-dollar question now is: “How willing are you to do your part and be a part of the solution to end the waste crisis in Africa?”