Town life has its share of hassles. Even waste disposal in some areas of the country’s cities require payment. This is mostly true for some parts of Lilongwe such as Katondo, areas six, 22, 24, and 47 where residents pay private waste collectors to dispose of garbage.
But not everyone can afford that. Where city councils are failing to provide waste collection services, people, especially in high density areas, consider other avenues.
Take some Area 36 residents, for example. These dump accumulated waste in drainage systems where rain water is expected to wash them away, minding little about its effects on those living in areas where the drainage ends.
Certainly, they are not the only ones. Such practices are among many that are affecting waste management in cities and towns. And while some of the waste management problems can be blamed on individuals, the city councils are responsible too.
A senior lecturer in the Environmental Sciences Department at the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar), Wilfred Kadewa, agreed with the observation, noting that from cleanliness and sanitation perspectives, Malawi is failing in a big way.
“We throw things out of car windows into the environment because we are never held accountable, there is no policing. It is not uncommon to see people walking on streets and chewing sugarcane or bananas and throwing the wastes all over the place.
“Even at household level, you see people throwing waste out of their compounds (fences) into the open communal areas. So, the mentality of most of us must change. We need to deal with the tragedy of the commons,” he said.
By extension, Kadewa observes that the city councils also need to do more, as most authorities talk about lack of funding to do a good job of cleaning, collecting and disposing wastes.
“The country does not even have proper landfills and other engineered waste management facilities. There are just dumpsites. So, the individual mentality is also present at this higher level where we just think of dumping and not managing. As residential locations, commercial and industrial areas grow, there seems to be no thought and consideration of waste and sanitation management,” he said.
To cope with the growing problem of waste, Kadewa identified the need for proper management, as well as use of the available policies and economic instruments in dealing with waste management issues.
Woes in waste management
Lilongwe City Council (LCC) assistant director responsible for collection, transport and disposal, Jorlex Kamtokoma, admitted that the council cannot reach every area in terms of waste management, because some are not accessible due to poor road network.
He also indicated that waste collection vehicles are not enough due to the high investment required to procure them.
“The number of refuse collection vehicles continues to dwindle against the ever increasing city population. 60 percent of the city’s population lives in either peri-urban areas or unplanned settlements characterised by poor road network that hinges on poor waste collection services,” he said in an interview.
The waste generation rate is estimated at 0.5 kilogrammes per person per day and for Lilongwe city’s population of 1 037 294, about 500 metric tonnes of waste is generated on a given day. Yet the council can only collect 30 percent of the total waste generated due to insufficient vehicles.
However, according to Kamtokoma, the council periodically conducts waste collection campaigns to clean and clear the ground waste that has been illegally disposed of in the locations of the city.
LCC has also partnered with development partners such as Water Aid, the European Union, and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in providing solid waste management infrastructure.
Apart from providing LCC with a refuse collection vehicle and four skips, Water Aid Malawi also constructed two waste transfer stations (WTSs) at Area 13 and Kawale-Masintha where household waste is first sorted and recycled before the final bi-product is dumped at the disposal site, with two others at Area 25-Mvunguti and Area 24-Ngwenya.
Water Aid programme manager for sustainable delivery Gift Luwe said they are also building capacity for those managing the WTSs by helping them with value addition initiatives and identifying markets for the value added products.
Already, the livelihoods of people working at the WTSs have improved from what they get from sales of products made from recycled waste materials.
From the WTS, tumblers and baskets are some of the items produced, as well as compost manure which is supplied to those who need it.
“There are also other things like briquettes which are produced from the waste and sold for energy in the homes. Companies that recycle plastic also get some from the recycled materials,” he said.
WTS manager Max Mgala said they produce briquettes from various biodegradable wastes including leaves and stationery paper.
“We burn these in a special oven and before it turns to ashes we would have made bio char, which is then mixed with sugarcane or cassava molasses. Then we press it with a special machine and we leave it to dry, producing the briquettes.
“From the other biodegradable waste products, we produce compost manure; while baskets, trays, door mats, carpets and other decorative items are produced from cans,” he explained.
The dumping sites have a lot of waste that could be put back into use. The council and its partners is now courting waste collectors to ensure that the waste is transferred into WTSs and recycled or sorted to a certain degree so that less of it goes to the dumpsites.
Kamtokoma acknowledged that previously LCC looked at waste management as merely collection, transportation, storage, and disposal of waste, which consequently led to waste being collected from all approved collection sites to the dumpsite leaving no space for community participation.
“This was and still is a big gap which is supposed to be filled if the council is to prevent environmental damage and spread of communicable diseases in the city,” he said. n