With 3 Billion people in the world lacking access to decent waste management services, WasteAid UK is sharing skills so communities can tackle the waste crisis themselves.

“One of our founding principles is that we respond to need,” explains WasteAid’s Director Mike Webster. “Even before we were registered as a charity, WasteAid was approached by international non-governmental organisation Concern Universal because of concerns about the levels of solid waste being openly dumped in the Gambia. They were also looking for opportunities to reduce the unemployment rate among young people and women.”

In partnership with the local council, Concern Universal and Women’s Initiative the Gambia (WIG), WasteAid’s first mission was to undertake an assessment visit to Brikama (a market town in the west of the Gambia). “We found large amounts of dumped waste, a lack of decent disposal facilities, and a completely overwhelmed municipality in terms of collection capacity,” reports Webster.

It was here that WasteAid developed the concept of a Waste Livelihoods Centre. They were offered funding by the European Union to initiate the project and set about transforming the waste landscape in Brikama.

Isatou Ceesay of Women’s Initiative The Gambia talking to local residents about the need for solid waste management

What waste challenges does the area face?

“The situation across sub-Saharan Africa is almost entirely one of poorly managed waste, so we are in the somewhat odd situation of knowing that there will be need for intervention in some form or other wherever we go,” suggests Webster. “But our major challenge is generally finding a strong local partner and in WIG we had a well-run, strong organisation with a long history of successful delivery of projects.”

Importantly, WasteAid also partnered with the local Brikama municipality, which provided land for the training centre. In return, WasteAid undertook to help them address their waste challenges.

The first of these was the huge inward migration into the municipality due to increasing urbanisation and economic activity in the coastal areas. Out of a national population of 1.8 million, almost 40% (700,000 people) now lived in Brikama municipality and their resources were completely inadequate to deal with this significant increase in demand on services.

Meanwhile, they had to manage the entire municipality with an annual per capita budget of approximately £0.07. Since the country is extremely poor (gross domestic product, a measure of income, is under $500 per head, as compared to over $40,000 in the UK), waste remains a low political priority.

Webster continued, “The council had around a dozen tractors and trailers to deliver a service, and they weren’t all working. We surveyed the area and found only about 10 per cent of the area had a regular waste collection – these tended to be the high visibility areas such as markets and shopping streets – places that would not be physically accessible without regular waste collections.”

There is a saying that waste data is either terrible or non-existent, and in the Gambia this was truer than ever. Data and research on waste characterisation, service coverage etc. was very poor and it was clear that WasteAid and partners would need to start from scratch.

Finally, the allocated disposal site was a former sand quarry, without even the most basic remediation measures, adjacent to farmland and impacting on the water quality of a reported fifteen boreholes surrounding them.

WasteAid spent several months running the country’s first ever full scale waste composition analysis to provide robust data for waste management interventions; holding focus groups and community meetings to understand community attitudes towards waste; and understanding the governance of waste, since ensuring that any intervention fits with existing legislation is vital.

Our team of super sorters at the beginning of the first waste analysis in The Gambia

How did we tackle the different types of waste?

The research identified key materials in the waste stream that had the greatest environmental impact and the greatest potential for diversion. WasteAid also established the potential end-markets and opportunities for recycled goods, and discovered what materials people were interested in working with.

The project partners concluded that a livelihood approach to diverting waste would be most effective (i.e. helping individuals and groups set up waste reprocessing businesses). This would create value chains for materials (giving them a value) and encourage individuals to segregate materials at source. This had already been witnessed with some materials, for instance metals and PET bottles that have ready secondary markets.

They decided that the key materials to focus on would be various types of organic waste (due to the large volume in the waste stream, the sizeable potential market for biofuels and agricultural uses, and the significant environmental and public health impact from lack of collection), and low grade film plastics (again these were prolific in the waste stream, and had a big environmental and health impact by blocking drains, choking livestock and causing pollution when burned).

The municipality offered a piece of wasteland for the project, conveniently situated opposite the market in Brikama.  The team developed four workstations:

  1. Turning woody waste into charcoal briquettes
  2. Turning low grade flexible plastics into floor tiles
  3. Turning fish waste into chicken feed supplement
  4. Using a variety of composting approaches to deal with the rest of the organic waste

These techniques alone had the potential to divert around 60% of the residual municipal waste stream.

Making the project effective

Webster recounts, “In a nutshell, the problem we usually face is how do you create a decent waste management system when the municipality can’t or won’t? Our approach, as outlined above, is to identify and work with a strong local partner, ensuring that any intervention is effective and long-lasting and will continue after project end.”

“How do we do that? Firstly we undertake robust research, then we consider how we can work with local partners to set up schemes that will last. Ensuring ongoing cost recovery for our projects is the major challenge – you can set up a scheme, provide equipment and build a reprocessing site, but how will it cover its costs in the long term?”

WasteAid’s achievements in The Gambia

The impact of the centre has been ongoing and is still growing. As of November 2016, the training centre has seen 212 people graduate, and a further 26 community recycling centres have been created in neighbouring towns and villages. Overall, this is expected to have impacted on the lives of 94,000 people, demonstrating what good value for money waste training is.

WasteAid has also demonstrated that there is a strong interest from African community organisations to improve waste management practice and set up recycling enterprises. National governments and the international community can have a significant impact on public health by investing in low-cost waste management techniques.

Since completing the development of the site and handed over to our partners Women’s Initiative The Gambia at the end of last year, the WasteAid team has been extremely busy. They now have partners in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Cameroon and will be starting the development of a new site in Somaliland shortly.

The ultimate aim is to develop a network of community waste management across the continent. The charity is currently developing a community waste management guide book, funded by CIWM and with help from Resource Futures. In April, the guide will be tested at a community waste management conference in the Gambia – the first of its kind.

Waste management is a grossly underfunded area and WasteAid UK only exists because of voluntary donations. If you’d like to give some support or get involved please visit www.wasteaid.org.uk or contact Mike, info@wasteaid.org.uk.


by Zoë Lenkiewicz, Head of Communications, WasteAid UK

This article was published in Resource magazine.