About waste in Africa

During my last trip to Africa, being a “minimum waster”, I couldn't not see all the trash that is almost ubiquitous.

You've heard, you've seen it. Beaches and streets in the third world countries full of trash, mostly plastic waste like PET bottles, biscuit wrappers and plastic bags. Bali, Philippines...the media is full of it, as the word about plastic has gotten out. Along with this you have the voices that, whenever you do any effort in the western world, like ban plastic straws etc., always point at those countries and say that given the amounts of trash there, our efforts are just minor and useless. Well, let me tell you something.


As an Africa lover, I travel to the black continent basically every year. This time we did Nigeria, Cameroon and Gabon. In terms of waste, these countries are no different to the aforementioned Asian countries, if not worse. The amounts of trash lying in the streets and floating on the water are terrifying. The problem is, according to me, two-fold.

1. they have no waste management

2. they wrap EVERYTHING in plastic

Ad 1. Although quite rich thanks to the oil and mineral mining, these countries still qualify as third world, dealing with infrastructure problems, electricity outages and poverty.  Only once they settle the primary issues, they can focus on the secondary ones such as the environment and waste management. For now, from what I have seen, the waste management infrastructure is non-existing, or very poor. In practice it means, that there are very, very few trash bins, so whenever you need to throw something away, you spend minutes, if not hours looking for a place to dispose of. So what do you do then? You simply drop it on the ground. The result?

Sad but true.

Ad 2. Plastic is cheap, durable, light, such a great material! We have enjoyed it, too, and it's only now that we are starting to realize that it can easily become our enemy. But the africans are still in the first phase. And so they wrap everything in it. When I say everything, I mean everything. Doesn't matter if you buy just chewing gums or a banana-they put everything in a plastic bag, sometimes even in separate plastic bags (!). Guess it enhances the customer experience in the otherwise lamentable shops.

But don't forget that we have all been there. I remember it was not so long ago when my country was all enthusiastic about plastic bags and some people even kept them and wore as an accessory (this is also sad but true). We were so fancied by this rather new material, and its convenience. On the same note, we have also been a poor country once, building its infrastructure and making sure that the people don't starve. And when we achieved that, we started focusing on the environment and what to do with our waste.


So what I would like to say is this. The third world countries will take care of the waste that they produce, they just need more time. In terms of development, they are simply not there yet. Meanwhile, instead of being sceptic and saying that our minor efforts are useless, let's pursue these efforts and show these countries good examples.

In Lagos, I met this girl that studies in Sweden and came home for holiday. After I told her what I do, she told me that she was so sad there was nothing like recycling bins in Nigeria. That she got used to it in Sweden and it makes sense for her.

So that's what I mean. Lead. Show good practice. Inspire.


P.S. For more about Africa, visit my personal blog teresita's.


Tereza is MIWA's partnership manager. As such, she encounters many interesting people and organizations and she participates in various events. She loves traveling and occasional writing. You can check out her personal blog Teresita's. She worked for the United Nations and is interested in responsible consumption and lifestyle.

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