The starting point for the ‘Africa Waste Management Outlook’, which was launched by the United Nations (UN) and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Resources (CSIR) on Tuesday, was the global waste management outlook that was published by the UN in 2015.
“It was necessary to consider whether the structure and outlined framework is applicable for the African continent,” said CSIR principal scientist and coordinating lead author of the outlook Professor Linda Godfrey, especially since Africa is set to undergo major economic and social transformation which will see rapid urbanisation and, consequently, increased waste.
She noted that Africa is already experiencing a growing middle class, which brings about changes in consumer habits, such as increased use of single-use plastics.
Godfrey further explained that various chapters of the outlook required investigation to determine the African context, including chapter five, which encompasses the social, economic and environmental impacts of mismanaged waste management in Africa.
“If the environment was [considered] important enough, waste would be managed differently. Sometimes the environment is not a sufficient agenda for waste management to be changed,” noted Godfrey.
However, the paradigm needs to change in terms of how we look at waste as a resource. “Waste is simply a resource in the wrong place,” she quipped.
Chapter three presents the state of waste in Africa. “We looked at issues around the composition of waste, waste collection coverage on the continent, some of the predominant methods of waste management and recycling, as well as transboundary movement of waste on the continent.”
This chapter also highlights the issue of trafficked waste in Africa. “Developed countries often dispose of, for example, electronic waste in African countries, especially West Africa (Nigeria, Ghana). This is to supposedly be reused, but typically it ends up in landfill,” she pointed out.
Additionally, as a symptom of uncontrolled dumping, people in Africa are often killed by landfill landslides – people that live in close proximity to dump sites.
Meanwhile, the 4% rate of recycling on the continent is most often done by the informal sector, which also plays an important role in terms of reuse or refurbishing end-of-life products.
For example, people in some African countries have refurbished old tyres to function as chairs (with wiring integrated), pots for plants (stacked tyres), art (painted tyres) or as end-tables.
Chapter four on waste governance looks at the inability of government to keep pace with growing waste streams and the limited development of policies and strategies to deal with waste. “We see slow adoption of policy instruments such as economic incentives and extended [waste] producer responsibility,” said Godfrey.
Chapter six of the outlook looks at the opportunities that waste provides as a secondary resource, while chapter seven suggests solutions for waste management that focuses on diverting waste away from landfill and dump sites towards reusing and recycling.
Chapter seven considers some of these solutions, including social and technological innovations that have emerged in the waste sector in Africa. “Unfortunately, we see a slow uptake of alternative waste treatment technologies and, hence, the 90% waste dumping in Africa figure, as opposed to recycling or reusing,” said Godfrey.
Some of the suggested solutions include integrating existing small-scale informal and formal entrepreneurial activities within mainstream waste management and ensuring social inclusion in the opportunities created; incentivising the establishment of local and regional recycling and recovery markets; and promoting waste prevention and cleaner production, especially within business and industry.
“As a continent, we have to look at what is most appropriate for us moving forward. It might not be the big, centralised technologies of the developed world. The thinking is changing with regard to technologies and services in terms of decentralisation.”
“Maybe we need a combination of both; small-scale, low-cost, decentralised and community-driven initiatives and larger-scale higher-cost, centralised initiatives to solve these challenges in Africa,” suggested Godfrey.
The outlook’s chapter eight considers the financing of waste management. “If we can not finance the solutions, we can not realise innovative technologies and social initiatives to manage waste, said Godfrey; therefore, African countries need to create an enabling environment that attracts private sector investors.
“In the report, we stress [the importance of] public–private partnerships, whether it be nongovernment organisations, large business, small business and the informal sector.”
Godfrey said better waste management can be achieved by focusing on the diversion of organic waste away from landfill towards composting, bio-energy recovery and higher value recovery, for example through a biorefinery, while focusing on the repair, reuse and recycling of mainline recyclables.
She concluded that Africa’s main goals should firstly be to control waste and then to harness that waste as a resource. “There is a need to build capacity, to raise awareness and to change behaviour on the continent.”