As I am working with a waste management company during my ICS placement, I’ve been researching and thinking about rubbish a lot recently. In this blog, I wanted to share some observations and hopefully get you thinking too, if only to appreciate how good you’ve got it next time you’re moaning about having to take the bins out.
What happens to waste in the UK? I mean solid waste: all of the plastic, paper, metal, glass, cardboard, rubber, ceramics, food and the rest that we produce on a daily basis, both at home and at work. Well, if we’re dutiful citizens, we sort our waste ourselves, into separate bins provided by the local authority. We put our bins out at night, and in the morning the rubbish has disappeared, safely whisked away for recycling by our reliable, timely garbage service, paid for in advance through taxes. We don’t often see our garbage collection staff, but they do a bloody great job!
What happens in Uganda, and the majority of African nations, is a completely different story, where the service isn’t always a government provision.
In Uganda’s capital, KCCA, the Kampala Capital City Authority, is responsible for waste management. Their mission is to “deliver quality services to the city”, a mission which many residents struggle to see in action. According to our Market Research, 92% of residents in my neighbourhood felt that KCCA’s service provision was poor. Although KCCA contract private companies to manage solid waste collection, they can still only effectively collect 40% of the solid waste generated in Kampala.
Rapid urbanisation and increasing population density, coupled with a rising middle class, means that more and more waste is being generated in many large African cities. This places increasing strain on government services, which are only in their infancy anyway, so always struggling to catch up. KCCA’s focus is the city centre and the main highways, meaning that residential neighbourhoods are completely neglected.
So how do suburban residents dispose of their solid waste? At the moment, the majority of households burn it, plastic bags and all. Many use organic waste for compost on small plantations, whilst others sneak out in the middle of the night to dump it illegally! Some proactive individuals collect waste for others on an ad hoc basis, though they are very disorganised. Unfortunately, many are unaware of the hugely negative effects that these practices are having on their health and environment.
Until policy matches up with practice, private companies have stepped in to fill the gaps in service provision in suburban areas, and many entrepreneurs are starting profitable businesses through waste. This is what our client, Chrispin, calls “the gold in garbage”. Over five years of operation, Waste Masters’ client base has shot from 3 to 730 households, and many middle-class households are more than willing to pay for the convenience of the service.
I do wonder about what will happen when the market becomes saturated, and there are too many small garbage trucks whizzing about small neighbourhoods, guzzling fuel. Waste Masters at least has a strong environmental vision, as construction starts on a processing/recycling plant next year. If all the private waste companies could form a unified service, and start recycling waste rather than dumping it, the future could look a lot brighter (and cleaner!)
“Ultimately, waste management presents an opportunity, not only to avoid the detrimental impacts associated with waste, but also to recover resources, realise environmental, economic and social benefits and to take a step on the road to a sustainable future.”
To end on a positive note, Uganda has just banned plastic bags in supermarkets. This means they now recycle the stock cardboard boxes, or use canvas or paper bags. It’s a great step in the right direction for the country and its environment.
 Environmental Resource Limited (ERL), Solid Waste Disposal-Kampala final report, 2009
 Municipal solid waste: Is it garbage or gold? http://na.unep.net/geas/archive/pdfs/GEAS_Oct2013_Waste.pdf