WasteAid UK has been testing its CIWM-funded guide to community waste management at a pan-African conference in the Gambia. The international Arkleton Trust event introduced 70 community group leaders to the essentials of waste management and culminated in hands-on masterclasses led by WasteAid and partners from the Gambia and Cameroon.

Openly dumped waste attracts, and harms, livestock

Production of the Guide is being overseen by Professor David C Wilson MBE, the current CIWM Senior Vice President and Patron of WasteAid UK. It is aimed at people working in communities without proper waste management, to help inform and inspire local groups to take control of the waste crisis themselves.

Prof Wilson said: “UNEP’s Global Waste Management Outlook [the first global overview of waste management in the 21st century] states that we are generating seven to ten million tonnes of urban solid waste a year, worldwide. This figure is growing, yet waste management coverage in poorer parts of the world remains patchy. I am delighted that through my Presidential project, CIWM is supporting WasteAid in sharing essential waste management skills with community groups in lower-income countries to enable and encourage grassroots solutions to the waste crisis.”

Getting to grips with waste

As waste managers in the UK, we know how challenging it can be to engage with people about waste. The “throw it away” culture hasn’t encouraged people to think beyond the bin, and since we all pay our council tax, we expect the service to run smoothly. We have become so accustomed to having our waste collected that it can be difficult to imagine life without waste management services.

Having had near universal waste collection in the UK since the 19th Century, we have come to take it for granted and in some ways have become detached from the real and important reasons for the service. Public health relies upon having sanitary living conditions, and that means clearing waste away from residential areas. All services cost something however, so how do you provide a waste management service where there is no finance?

“The answer lies in creating value chains,” says Mike Webster, Chief Executive of WasteAid UK. “By exploring the potential value in common waste materials, communities can create a value from something previously considered waste, and draw different materials out of the residual stream for recovery. Particularly for organic waste and plastics, this can make a huge difference to the quantity of waste that accumulates in local dumpsites.”

At the seminar in The Gambia, WasteAid launched the session by asking people to consider where waste comes from, and what wastes arise from each source. This activity got everyone thinking about the definition of waste, and realising the universality of the waste challenge.

In groups, participants were then asked to consider the environmental, health, and economic impacts of poorly managed waste. With community leaders from Uganda, Malawi, Kenya, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Nigeria, The Gambia, UK and India, the discussions really highlighted the problems caused to society from the common practice of dumping and burning waste.

People from 11 countries joined WasteAid and Arkleton Trust at the Community Waste Management Seminar in The Gambia

Particular risks that the groups identified included pollution of drinking water, increased flood risk, toxic smoke, vermin and the spread of disease. Considering the challenge more globally, participants drew a clear line between poor environments, climate change, and migration. Where people have no conditions for growing crops or bringing up healthy children, they are more likely to leave in the hope of a better life. Migration, of course, brings additional challenges for both migrants and host communities, and can contribute further to the waste crisis in other areas.

By enabling people to become self-employed recycling entrepreneurs in their native communities, the pressure to emigrate is lessened. Much more local economic opportunity is needed to help stem the flow of young people from impoverished lands, on the perilous journey across the Sahara and the Mediterranean, and to a very uncertain future should they make it to Europe. This underlines the need for UK aid to continue investing in grassroots development, regardless of a lack of trade prospects with British businesses. If the desire expressed in the Brexit vote was to reduce economic immigration, we can do worse than help set up small waste recovery businesses in politically stable yet poor countries.

Participants came to realise how valuable waste management can be for protecting and enhancing communities – socially, economically and environmentally. In fact, analysis for the Global Waste Management Outlook found that the cost of waste management is outweighed by the cost of inaction by 5 to 10 times.

“Waste management really is excellent value for money,” added Webster. “Healthcare, flooding, migration, marine litter – these are all costly problems that communities are facing across the world. We’re not saying that waste management is a cure-all, but it does have the potential to reduce a lot of problems, particularly for the poorest in society.”

Low cost recycling technologies

Once the participants were familiar with the idea of waste being resources in the wrong place, they started to appreciate the positive opportunities afforded by a community approach to waste management. It is crucial, in poor regions, not to rely on fuel-hungry technology for waste management: people are time-rich whereas fuel is often imported and costly. The small amount of value that can be recovered from waste needs to stay within the community, enabling locals to provide a sustainable service. The global waste crisis will be tackled successfully with people, not machines.

Two pioneers in community waste management led the group through their recycling processes: first Isatou Ceesay of Women’s Initiative The Gambia (WIG), making charcoal briquettes from woody waste; and then Pierre Kamsouloum from Cameroon, who has developed a certified construction product using plastic waste as the raw material.

These inspiring individuals demonstrated the essence of what WasteAid is about: creating sustainable livelihoods from waste, and generating positive environmental, economic and health impacts in the process. The group benefitted from detailed demonstrations and discussions about the recycling technologies, which require only the simplest tools and equipment that can be made almost anywhere.

Local resident Alhiou creates his first paving tile from plastic bags

After the seminar WasteAid revisited partner organisation WIG, with whom they set up a community recycling programme in 2015. The team is currently fundraising to enable expansion of the service to five more communities, and WasteAid is inviting direct sponsorship or corporate social responsibility partners for this targeted and tangible initiative.

The knowledge gained over the course of the seminar will be included in the CIWM-funded practical Guide to Community Waste Management, which will be made freely available online via the WasteAid and CIWM websites, following its completion and its launch at Prof Wilson’s Presidential inauguration in October 2017.

“To be able to test the draft CIWM guide with development practitioners from so many countries was a privilege and will help ensure the finished product is fit for purpose,” said Prof Wilson. “We are grateful to the Arkleton Trust for inviting WasteAid to participate in the event in The Gambia. The experience has certainly added value to the overall project.”

CIWM members can be proud that with their support, communities across the globe will be able to take control of the waste crisis, and turn waste into wealth.

For information and sponsorship opportunities please visit: www.wasteaid.org.uk

Published in CIWM journal.

By Zoë Lenkiewicz, Head of Communications, WasteAid UK