Youth pick up the recycling gauntlet
The community of Chipata Township, initially an unplanned settlement in Zambia's capital city of Lusaka, has a problem typical of all major urban centres: people have littered the area with plastic shopping bags, papers, vegetable matter, and other forms of waste that they have carelessly tossed aside.
But a group of unemployed young people there is trying to pick things up. Members of the Asaza [meaning youth in one of the local languages] Community Project are clearing waste from Chipata Township and earning money for it at the same time.
Among the objectives of the Asaza Community Project is to collect garbage, sort it out into recyclable waste, and sell that waste to certain businesses. For instance, the young people collect and sell bones to ceramic manufacturers, who use the bones in their production processes.
Material that cannot be reused or recycled is taken for dumping in designated areas. "We came up with this project when we saw that there was so much waste lying around in our locality," said Raymond Banda, one of the initiators of the project. "We thought we can clean up and make money in the process. We have identified some companies where we can be selling some of the waste we will be collecting."
Asaza members have since constructed brick structures in strategic places in the township with compartments for various categories of waste for residents to throw in instead of littering.
Daniel Mulenga, Lusaka City Council spokesman, disclosed in an interview that the city of more than two million inhabitants generates approximately 1,000 tonnes of waste daily, which the local authority has no capacity to handle.
"The major constraint is that we do not have enough equipment," said Mulenga. "We only have three refuse trucks and three tractors to service the whole city. But certain areas need to be serviced every day, like the town centre (or central business district) but at the moment we only service it twice in a week.
"We need 100 trucks to service the city properly. Then, we would touch all the areas in the city," Mulenga said, adding that the three tractors are in the process of being phased out because they are not suitable for the purpose.
But what has made matters worse for Lusaka, which is growing at a very fast rate with mostly unplanned settlements, is that the Environmental Council of Zambia (ECZ) closed the only legal dumping site near Libala Township, south east of the city, more than one year ago to prevent the site from contaminating the underground water supply that is the source of most of the water used in the city. The ECZ is a quasi-governmental organization.
Another factor is that the area around the Libala dumping site has been zoned for residential development; people have already started building their houses there. The council has had to grapple with finding another dumping site. It is currently using what used to be an illegal dumping site near a cemetery in Chingwere area on the northern outskirts of the city.
"ECZ has allocated us a temporary site next to the Chingwere cemetery," said Mulenga. "Once we secure a permanent place, we have to remove all the garbage from there to the new site."
He disclosed that the Danish Development Agency (DANIDA) is giving the council funds and materials to set up a new dumping site for which several sites have been identified. Part of the money will also be used to rehabilitate the Libala dumping site.
Kwali Mfuni, ECZ's senior environmental education and communications officer, admitted in an interview that Zambia's waste management practices are far from good. She disclosed that ECZ and other stakeholders are coming up with a strategy to coordinate waste management through a consultative process that is already on the way.
Mfuni said businesses need to supplement local authorities that lack resources for waste management. "In fact, the private sector has come in strongly in Lusaka and the Copperbelt Province [where most of the mines and related industries are situated] into waste management," she said. "But the problem is that most of these companies are just transporting waste and not running dumping sites."
These companies, she said, only operate in low- and medium-density areas where residents paid nominal fees to have their waste removed on a regular basis, leaving the sprawling high-density areas unattended to.
Mfuni also said that local authorities did not comply fully with the conditions set by ECZ for running a dumping site. One of these conditions include stationing permanent staff at the site who should not only sort out waste into biodegradable and non-biodegradable materials, but also prevent scavengers from removing condemned foodstuffs, some of which finds its way back into the community.
As the ECZ publication, Enviro-Line, notes in the September - December 2001 issue, Zambia is producing more waste than ever before. The publication says that it is sad to note that councils that have the responsibility to manage waste in their areas do not have the capacity to do so.