Waste management SME helps extinguish local fire

Waste management SME helps extinguish local fire

An uncontrolled fire burned for 14 days in August at a waste disposal site in Pomona, contaminating the air in Harare’s northern suburbs and upending local livelihoods.

Private and public sector actors tried to contain it by boosting fire fighting teams and sourcing equipment, fuel, and water, but the size of the area and amount of waste was too large. The site burned for weeks.

Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) offered to help by mobilising formal and informal economy players, as well as local communities.

“We can reduce our waste”

Refuse Collection Services, a registered private garbage and recycling SME in Harare that received support from the ILO Green enterPRIZE Innovation Challenge project, stepped up to the frontlines.

“By owning the fact that each and every one of us directly contributed to the toxic fumes that we have all breathed in at some stage, we take a big step toward a change in habit,” said CEO Helen Davidson. “We can reduce our waste.”

Refuse Collection Services employs 15 workers and provides services for about 700 customers, including households, businesses, and aid agencies. 

The company takes municipal solid waste directly to Pomona, the only official site for the city of Harare, and recyclable waste to a private sorting yard. There, employees sift through the waste by hand and sell salvageable parts to recyclers in Zimbabwe and abroad.

From the first day of the fire, Helen began spending all her time on site. Her Pomona Dump Fund raised about USD$27,000 from local citizens within two weeks. Private sector actors also helped with the procurement of emergency services, trucks, dozers, water, and diesel.

Although the response operation was officially coordinated by the Environmental Management Authority (EMA), Helen compiled a daily report on the Refuse Collection Services Facebook page to keep communities engaged and informed about the fire containment and requirements.

Strong engagement from both small and large local actors proved that the private sector can play a key role in emergency situations and sustainable waste management more generally.

SMEs to the rescue

Since 2018, the ILO Green enterPRIZE Innovation Challenge has helped hundreds of SMEs develop their ideas around waste management and recycling, among other topics. The goal of the project is to foster innovative solutions to environmental and social challenges, creating jobs in the process.

“There is an encouraging level of innovation from SMEs in the waste management and recycling sector across Zimbabwe,” said Alice Vozza, ILO Project Manager. “They are an important community that can boost the development of local circular economies.”

SMEs contribute to jobs creation, alleviate poverty, and sustain livelihoods in many developing countries. Their work in solid waste management also decreases pollution, which has been linked to severe cases of COVID-19.

Waste as an economic resource

In African countries today:

  • 250 million tons of municipal waste are expected to be generated by 2025
  • The average rate of collection is 55%
  • 90% of waste disposal happens at uncontrolled dump sites and landfills that practice open burning
  • 4% of an estimated 75% of recyclable waste is recycled

The African Union took action with Agenda 2063, in which countries committed to recycling at least half of all urban waste by 2023 and boosting the urban waste recycling industry. The goal is to reimagine waste as an economic resource.

Challenges in urban Zimbabwe

Solid waste management is one of the most pressing challenges for urban areas in Zimbabwe. 

Annually, an estimated 1.65 million tons of waste generated in the country ends up in municipal or illegal dump sites. Less than 10% of that waste is composted, recycled, or reused.

By 2050, nearly half of the population is expected to be living in urban areas. Current practices, including throwing waste into open areas and burning it at night, must change.

Authorities must find new ways to work with the private sector and local communities to improve the recycling rate and reduce waste flow to disposal sites. This may involve connecting with informal economy units that, with the right support, could play a key role in the waste value chain.

What would it look like to reframe the waste challenge as a business opportunity to create decent jobs?

Some SMEs are already answering that question with action. 

Ideas make a difference. 

Learn more about the ILO project and how you can take action for positive change in your community.

October 1, 2020