The Great Global Cleanup

World Cleanup Day inspires action on waste crisis in Sub-Saharan Africa

World Cleanup Day occurs on the third Saturday of every September, and we see cleanup initiatives taking place around the world.

Waste management is a pressing issue facing our world today.

By 2050, worldwide municipal solid waste generation is estimated to have increased by roughly 70 percent to 3.4 billion metric tons.

Some two billion people around the world, mostly in underserved countries, do not have their waste collected. Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the fastest growing regions of the world and is at the forefront of the global waste crisis.

“Waste is everywhere. In the streets of communities, family compounds, near schools and gathering places and rural countryside as well,” says Kemo Fatty, a conservationist from Banjul in The Gambia. Kemo has worked for the past six years in reforestation and waste management as executive director at Green-Up Gambia. “When you look at the state of waste management in my country, it is a very crude system. Waste is taken to landfill(s), burned to make room for more waste, then that harmful cycle continues.”

Waste is an eye sore, smells unpleasant, damages people’s health, and lowers the morale of communities. Uncontrolled burning of waste causes an extra 270,000 premature deaths every year around the world. Contact with waste can lead to an increase in cases of skin infections, dysentery, diarrhea, and cholera. Waste heaps are breeding grounds for vermin, flies, and mosquitoes, which are tied to increasing malaria cases.

Ashade Abdulsalam Abiodun is environmental ambassador and executive director of Green Janitors Sustainable Initiative. “I live in a coastal area in Lagos-Nigeria, a place called Badagry, a historical town surrounded by water and nature. When I visit the coast, I often notice that our waterways are filled with plastic. These are solid wastes that take thousands of years to decompose, and of course they endanger our aquatic animals… we as humans also consume these animals, even when we don’t have the idea that many of them would swallow plastic debris. These plastics also clog our drainage system in my community, which leads to flooding.”

Man smiling and holding a garbage bag on a beach
Ashade Abdulsalam Abiodun cleaning up a local beach. Photo credit: Ashade Abdulsalam Abiodun

Roadblocks to change

Lack of education about trash and the health, environmental, and socio-economic impacts it has on society is a major issue. High volumes of waste are not separated and waste management is not necessarily sustainable or consistent in many Sub-Saharan communties. Another challenge is policy and implementation of waste mandates.

Kemo Fatty is also the manager of the Bakoteh Dumpsite, The Gambia’s largest waste disposal site that is 18 hectares. He assumed the role as the site’s manager where his day-to-day schedule consists of controlling waste fires and negotiating with local leaders to better manage the waste.

“The municipality councils responsible for waste management are not equipped technically and financially. As the population in The Gambia rapidly increases, higher consumption has led to an influx of waste — in particular single-use plastics. Although the government has implemented a ban on the import of single-use plastics, these mandates are hard to enforce, creating piles of plastic in communities and dump sites,” says Kemo.

This video shows the state of waste management at the Bakoteh Dumpsite in Banjul, capital city of The Gambia. Video credit: Kemo Fatty

“The roadblock to change is the mindset of the people towards waste, particularly single-use plastics, the people are yet to understand how to source their waste from source. Another issue is the collection process by the government. The delay in time of collection for household waste leads to improper disposal of waste on the street, walkways, and open burning.”

Ashade Abdulsalam Abiodun
This video shows the impact of waste as narrated by Ashade and how it affects local drains. Video credit: Ashade Abdulsalam Abiodun

Agents of change

Despite all, there is hope, ingenuity, passion, and opportunity surrounding these waste issues. 

Karamo Tambanjang of Bansang, The Gambia, started Sinoya Kendo, a youth-led and private waste collection business that provides the only consistent and reliable waste service in his community. It employs local citizens to pick up trash from households, local businesses, and government institutions. As a result, customers are more aware of the health and environmental impacts of waste, leading to an increase in waste separation and a decrease in burning and illegal waste dumping. Karamo also empowered youth, women, and citizens through civic education sessions aimed at waste management sensitization and has instilled confidence in community leaders to design and implement community-based waste management strategies. 

Employees of Sinoya Kendo prepare for waste collections services in Bansang, The Gambia. Photo credit: Karamo Tambanjang

In Nigeria, we see similar examples of innovation as Ashade Abdulsalam Abiodun launched a project called Pick the Plastic. This project provides education sessions with the intent on changing people’s mindsets on trash by showing them where their pollution goes (oceans and waterways) and organizes regular cleanups to reduce marine pollution and coastal flooding. He also trains youth on upcycling and ‘waste to wealth’ and empowers those who are unemployed through establishing the first recycling plant in his community. He encourages citizens to recycle at the plant by offering incentives in exchange for delivering recyclable products.

“Proper waste management can be incentivized,” says Kemo Fatty. “Encouraging positive practices such as waste separation, at-home recycling, and reusing organic waste are easy ways to get people to change behaviors around waste.”

Kemo encourages communities to use organic matter for compost to replenish the topsoil. “70% of Gambian women depend on gardening, so waste generated through food and simple organic matter can be reused and facilitate livelihoods for families,” says Kemo. Tailormade models that encourage education, behavior change, and incentives for sustainable consumption and management of waste are key to tackling the global trash problem.

Kemo Fatty in action at an Earth Day cleanup in The Gambia. Photo credit: Kemo Fatty

Waste management is an important issue as we hear the cry of at-risk citizens in places throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. It is important to listen to the real voices expressing how dire the issue is and how everyday citizens can make a difference by changing their mindset on waste and finding community-based solutions.

EARTHDAY.ORG has partnered with World Cleanup Day on September 18, 2021. From now until the end of September, we are encouraging individuals around the world to get outside and clean up their communities. This is a global effort in conjunction with Let’s Do It World, National CleanUp Day, and Keep America Beautiful.

Register your cleanup on the map and encourage others to join.