Have you ever thought about walking/driving around a town, within the Angolan context, where you rarely see garbage containers or hardly find solid waste on the streets? If so, the first thought that would come to your mind is that such a place engages in an efficient solid waste management, right? Well, think again.
Between 8 and 13 March 2020, the AccLab team visited Lubango town, for a Solutions Safari, which is an essential protocol of the Accelerator Lab to create close ties with the communities, mapping solutions and together find ways that lead to sustainable development.
During this mission we held several meetings with local actors, some of whom are engaged in solid waste collection activities in partnership with Lubango local Administration, during which we learned that the project did not cover key components of solid waste management, namely:
1- Separation of the solid waste
2- Controlled and well-managed landfill for disposal of solid waste.
Lubango is home to about 876.339 habitants (INE) and there is a considerable number of businesses that produce a substantial amount of solid waste every day. Without separating the solid waste and with the lack of a properly managed landfill, one would pose the inevitable question: What really happens in the final stage of the waste management process in Lubango?
The treatment of solid waste at the point of waste generation does not include separation, nor does it consist of waste containers placed in spots expected to generate waste. This means that the residents must keep the trash in plastic bags and wait for the motorbikes to go door by door to collect it. The residents pay JMC a weekly fee of 200kz. This scheme seems to be producing the desired result of keeping the streets of Lubango town free of solid waste. However, this begs the question: Is this scheme environmentally sustainable?
Inevitable coexistence between the formal and informal solid waste management stakeholders
Like in Luanda, there is a growing number of informal solid waste collectors in Lubango, who work alongside the formal system. While the only enterprise formally engaged in waste management in partnership with Lubango Administration collects mixed solid waste, the informal solid waste collectors, select what they can sell, from glass bottles to metal. Entire families leaving nearby the dumping ground survive by collecting glass bottles to sell to unidentified companies that travel from Luanda to buy them at a price as low as 300 kwanzas per sac full of bottles. Unfortunately, the activities of the informal solid waste collectors are not regulated and therefore, the big companies take the opportunity to profit at the expense of the most disadvantaged members of society. How to turn this around and give the informal solid waste collectors a fair share in the solid waste management business? Perhaps regulating the activities in the solid waste management business would be a win-win situation for everyone involved.
What is people buzzing about? Talking about the subject during an interview with Angola press, the head of the Department of Community Services of the Provincial Environment Office stated that his institution was waiting for a piece of land to be made available by the local authorities to build a recycling center. The official, who spoke on the sidelines of the National Environmental Awareness and Education Campaign “Zero plastic bags Angola”, at the provincial level, said that plastic constitutes most of the region's solid waste, hence the Office has been promoting awareness campaigns in supermarkets, bakeries and suppliers of plastic bags. (Source: ANGOP, Dec. 2019)
It is encouraging to see an awareness campaign about the scale of the problem with plastic bags. In fact, the sheer presence of plastic bags all over the place could not be ignored during our visit to the landfill located about 16 km north of Lubango town.
According to a research conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency, somewhere between five hundred billion and one trillion disposable bags are used each year around the world. Plastic bags, while only used for an average of about twelve minutes, remain in landfills, oceans, and other places for thousands of years. Could anything sound more tragic than this? Used in average for twelve minutes and then left unused for thousands of years.
The enthusiasm and commitment we have seen from the Government officials, academic community, private enterprises as well as the informal solid waste collectors is an encouraging sign of a brighter future as far as solid waste management is concerned. We strongly believe that when all the existing plans are brought to fruition, coupled with practices already in place, more people and institutions will be encouraged to adopt circular economy principles.