Handling disposable waste

Many of us are witnesses of how riverbanks, markets and roadsides have become eyesores due to heaps of waste that remain uncollected for long durations.

Regrettably, rivers, especially in urban areas, have lost their natural beauty.

Most of them have become dumpsites, contaminated by both domestic and industrial waste.  The polluted water can no longer support life.

In other instances, the contaminated water produces a foul smell.

Apparently, the uncollected waste becomes favourable breeding grounds for vectors that spread sanitation-related diseases to people.

The common disease vectors found in mounting and rotten waste are houseflies and rodents.

Unfortunately, this is happening when the country has municipal councils that are responsible for the collection, treatment and proper disposal of waste.

Indisputably, we are living in a disposable era that is characterised by a shift from the use of reusable to the use of disposable products such as plastic carrier bags, utensils, cans, food packages, plastic bottles and diapers.

Rationally, it would have made sense if Malawi was a highly industrialised, developed and urbanised country.

The country would have been seen to be overwhelmed with huge volumes of improperly managed waste materials since they produce and use disposable products en masse.

Surprisingly, it is less industrialised and developing countries like Malawi which produce very little or actually import relatively small quantities of disposable products that are struggling with waste which is dumped in undesignated places and often take time to be collected and disposed at sanctioned refuse sites.

In this situation, the question would be: Why are developing and less industrialised countries like Malawi struggling with large volumes of wastes when they are known to produce a narrow range of disposable products?

In my view, the problem of improper waste management in Malawi indicates either non-existence of effective and efficient waste management policy frameworks or lack of willpower among relevant authorities to implement existing waste management policies.

Authorities need to provide solutions to the problem of poor waste management in our communities.

Not long ago, some of us heard of a Malawian who faced punitive action in a foreign country for careless disposal of mere chewing gum.

This indicates that unlike in Malawi, where people go scot-free after discarding waste carelessly, authorities in developing countries are committed to the implementation of effective waste management policies.

Malawi can address the problem of improper waste management if relevant authorities, in consultation with all key stakeholders, get committed to the formulation and implementation of robust waste management policies.

Obviously, the process needs to start with a review of existing waste management related policies to determine their relevance in this era of disposables

Surely, the problem of improper waste management in Malawi will be resolved if relevant authorities formulate and implement good waste management policies.

Good policies are those that are robust, effective and efficient.

Indeed if authorities are to formulate good waste management policies that will address the problem of improper waste disposal in Malawi, there is a need to start with a comprehensive understanding of the current environment as this will assist in defining society’s needs.

With well-defined society needs, authorities and stakeholders will be guided when choosing and using a combination of good policy instruments to formulate and implement effective and efficient waste management policies.

More importantly, authorities responsible for waste management need to be reminded that as the environment continues to evolve, peoples’ lifestyles keep on changing. This is evidenced by the ever increase of waste being disposed carelessly into the environment.

With this in mind, it is imperative for the authorities to understand that a good policy is based on learning from experience as such waste management policy making process needs to be a continuous, learning process, and not a one-off isolated initiative. Unless this is well understood and being practised by those concerned, Malawi will not make any headway in its efforts to properly manage waste. n

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