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03/06/2019

Waste management aids health and prosperity- and the plastic problem

Poor waste management services in the developing world affect all of us, says Zoë Lenkiewicz

Seventy per cent of marine plastic pollution comes from land-based sources – but much of it is from lower-income countries with no waste management systems.

Worldwide, there are some three billion people whose household waste is not properly managed. Without a functioning collection and disposal system, people are left to deal with their rubbish themselves, either burning or dumping it nearby. As plastic doesn’t degrade it gathers in ditches, causing often catastrophic flooding  in poor communities that also lack basic sanitation.

Thus, incidences of waterborne and mosquito-borne diseases increase. Air quality also declines as people resort to burning heaps of rubbish.

"The issue of plastic in the oceans is just one symptom of a broken system that needs urgent redress"

Children growing up in these places have been found to suffer from doubled levels of diarrhoea, six times the normal levels of respiratory illnesses, and mental and physical stunting.

Identifying suitable sites for waste management activities is notoriously tricky in the UK, but in developing countries the challenge is intensified. Planning departments are usually under-resourced and their planning policies out of date. Developers are keen to sell plots of land and rudimentary waste management facilities have little in their favour.

WasteAid is a charity set up by British waste management professionals to share skills in waste management and recycling in developing countries – helping people to see waste as a resource by turning a pollution problem into an economic opportunity.

Our government supports these goals. UK aid is funding a two-year project in an informal settlement in Kenya, where WasteAid and its partner the Kwa Muhia Environmental Group are setting up total community waste management. The Department for International Development is also funding a two-year initiative in a Gambian village, where trainees capture ocean-bound plastic and turn it into useful products like paving tiles. Just two months after the first round of training, the group had prevented the equivalent of a million plastic bags from reaching the Atlantic.

Communities, municipalities and governments in lower-income countries need support to preserve the fragile environment upon which billions of people depend. The issue of plastic in the oceans is just one symptom of a broken system that needs urgent redress. Through training and sensitisation, WasteAid is helping to deliver sustainable change, enabling people to improve their living conditions and protect our shared natural heritage.

Zoë Lenkiewicz is head of programmes and engagement for WasteAid and a Planner Woman of Influence 2019

Photo | iStock

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