Zimbabwe has a litter problem. Waste is being discarded on the side of roads throughout the country. Often passengers are seen throwing rubbish out of their car windows. Do Zimbabweans no longer care about keeping Zimbabwe clean? Are the municipalities failing us, by poor collection services? What is the answer to effective waste management? I believe there is a green solution to our country’s litter problem, and I met two women who are working hard to reduce waste through recycling.
Helen Davidson lives in Harare and has worked in the refuse collection service for many years. Her initial business was general waste collection as the municipal waste collection was erratic and unreliable. Her current business focuses on recycling, as well as general waste collection. Her passion is a driving force within the community.
The Pomona rubbish dump near Borrowdale in Harare is burgeoning with excessive amounts of rubbish from households who don’t recycle. It also has the added problem of at least one week in a month of no collections by the Harare municipality. Ironically, this is an improvement from previous years. Unsightly rubbish bags often lie in the streets waiting to be collected, contributing to general littering. Poor management of the dump is also a problem. For example, the fire of 2013 caused noxious fumes, polluting the atmosphere for weeks. Waste management needs to change and it is dynamic people like Davidson who promote recycling, reduce what lands up in a landfill, empower people to take charge of their own waste which leads to a cleaner environment for everybody.
Women are Leading a Green Revolution
It seems women are leading this green revolution. Davidson offers a collection service with a charge of $5 for all recyclable and general goods, which people sort into the different coloured bags she provides. Plastic, cans, glass and paper can all be recycled in this manner. Glass and cans end up in South Africa and plastic and paper is recycled in Zimbabwe. Paper is recycled by Zimbabwe National Waste, creating paper, tissue and cardboard products. Environment Africa has endorsed Davidson’s company and she has over 300 customers despite only having one truck and a small work space.
Her business has huge potential to grow and she not only provides an excellent service to individuals but to companies such as Meikles and a growing number of schools and embassies. Her work within the community in recycling and the preservation of the environment in general, is an inspiration to Zimbabweans to address the problem of waste management.
The coloured plastic bags that Helen provides are made entirely from recycled plastic that Mary Wazara makes in cooperation with her husband in a factory in Msasa. Wazara has a passion for recycling, especially education about recycling in communities. She is especially passionate about empowering women and giving them and their families the chance of an income. She grew up in Mabvuku and knows the needs of low-income communities and the struggles of life in Zimbabwe. She worked as an unpaid domestic worker which she told me was a meaningful education as well as her school studies. She is trained as a beauty therapist. She is an example to women that no matter your background, there is a way to a better future if you work hard and follow your passions.
Recycling: A Source of Income
Wazara has her own recycling business called Greenline as well as working in partnership with her husband and his business for 15 years. Mary promotes a proudly Zimbabwean attitude in everybody she works with. She encourages communities to collect and sort plastic at source, adding value to waste. She normally goes all over the country and gathers about 50 women in each place, discussing with them the importance of hygiene, a love of the environment and encourages ‘idea harvesting’ within their community.
She buys all the collected plastic off the women that they weigh themselves and gather together to be transported to Msasa. She pays them 30c-50c/kg depending on the quality, which provides them with an income and encourages better waste management and respect of the environment. She encourages these communities to form their own groups which she refers to as a ‘Community Buy-back Centre’ where they work together on their own so that there is something for everyone.
Wazara works with the government, particularly the Environmental Management Agency. She has approached the Combi Association, giving out free plastic bags for collecting rubbish in commuters and encouraging fines to be enforced for littering. She wants Zimbabwe to take responsibility for effective waste management and to change the attitudes of a society that has increasingly cared less about the environment. Her concern is for all the plastic that ends up buried or being burnt, causing harm and health problems.
There are also a lot of children who now head families and have had to leave school that Wazara works with, paying them for their collected plastic. But she also asks them to show her their homework so that they are encouraged to not drop out of school. Mary is inspiring a whole nation to recycle and to know the value of waste, encouraging women to lead their communities and to forge a new life amidst difficulties and hardship. She is a true role model and ambassador of recycling.
In her factory, collected plastic from communities such as in Kwekwe where Den Dairy bags are sourced and from the Kefalos factory that can produce 200 kg of plastic waste in one week, are sorted and go through machines that melt, re-melt and cool in water to produce a plastic rope that is then chopped into pellets and then melted again to make plastic bin liners, as the end result. Colour can be added to make the recycling bags that Helen distributes and are sold in supermarkets, as well as the large black plastic bin liners called the ‘Green Bag’ that are also available in the shops.
The bags need to be cleaned before they are turned into pellets. At the factory, youngsters clean the bags. These are destitute children from Epworth who make a small income. The plastic rope is also used for creating art by the Lynde Francis Trust, who create beautiful objects through upcycling. Different types of plastic end up as different products. For example, recycled plastic is used in dam and pond lining and to create pipes, buckets and crates, depending on the hardness of the plastic.
Waste does not have to end up in the landfill as both Helen Davidson and Mary Wazara continue to demonstrate. These women are striving for a better future for Zimbabwe, a green and sustainable future that all Zimbabweans must work for. Recycling is our responsibility for the sake of the environment. Good waste management is in our hands.
For further information please email Helen Davidson: firstname.lastname@example.org
And Mary Wazara: email@example.com
Lucy Tingay has a Fine Arts degree from Rhodes University. Her passion for writing has encouraged her to create a writing group with fellow writing friends. She particularly loves to write poetry. She was born and currently lives in Harare.
All images by Lucy Tingay