11 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Free Bins Are Just Not Enough!

WE cannot be entirely sceptic about the increasing number of corporates gifting the Harare City Council with free refuse bins in recent years. That's a commendable entry-level green initiative, as long as publicity is not the motivation. The council needs all the help it can get.

Last week even the US Embassy staff joined the green corporate bandwagon.

It gifted Harare with yet another refuse bin placed in the Harare Gardens across the embassy along Herbert Chitepo Avenue. A week earlier, a coalition of corporates had made donations of several small refuse bins to take care of the city's growing litter problem.

While Harare Mayor Mr Muchadeyi Masunda was busy singing praises to the benefactors for the donations, one question begs: Is this the correct kind of help that Harare needs for the effective management of waste in the city?

Or those delivering refuse bins, should donate something different, like vehicle garbage collection and disposal services?

Granted, beggars can't choose. But free bin gifts are just not enough considering the bulk of dirt that clogs Harare's streets, homes and landfills is the work of corporate manufacturers and retailers. With all the free refuse bins that Harare has received, waste management remains a major challenge. Across the city centre, street litter is an eyesore.

Garbage at key bus termini such as Copacabana and Fourth Street goes for days without collection. In the high-density areas, where donated refuse bins do not exist, garbage remains a serious environmental and health hazard.

Garbage is everywhere, mountains of it, pungent, uncollected and growing everyday. Yet people have refuse bins in the townships. The council periodically supplies the black plastic bags, well, bins.

Unfortunately, it religiously forgets to collect garbage. In most parts of Dzivaresekwa, council refuse vehicles were last seen six weeks ago. Some residents in Area 2 of the township say refuse is now collected once every three weeks. The garbage story spreads beyond Dzivarasekwa to almost every high-density suburb in the capital. In many respects, Harare has failed. We all now know that.

But the source of the problem goes beyond Harare's inefficiency in refuse collection and disposal. The free bins initiative is a key private sector project that is helping build capacity on waste management for the Harare Council.

However, such multi-stakeholder partnerships have been betrayed by the city's failure to establish effective and efficient solutions to the waste problem. Indeed, Harare was expected to be a credible partner in the free bins deal through the provision of mechanisms that effectively "degarbaged" the city.

Seeing that council has struggled, perhaps corporates may consider redirecting their gifts towards the provision of transport services for waste collection and disposal. Apart from that companies should establish mechanisms that control the amount of waste that ends up in Harare's landfills. Recyclable material may be separated at source by placing it in colour-coded refuse bins while only organic waste is eliminated. This way waste will be effectively managed, the risk of disease scaled down and land pollution controlled.

If basic conditions undergo fundamental and lasting change, such as the unwanted high volume of dirt that has accumulated across the city, it may be that the deadly methane gas produced from improper waste disposal and management practices is depreciated. Methane is one of the numerous gases fuelling climate change and global warming, events that pose far-reaching social, economic and environmental threats.

Mr Wilson Matimba, a Harare waste management and recycling expert, says corporates must pay for the pollution they are causing. Bin donations were piecemeal, he said, far too "symbolic" given the unsustainable scale of corporate waste. Some 75 percent of waste collected by the Harare City Council and landfilled at Pomona is packaging waste from companies.

"Council and ratepayers are subsidising businesses by paying for the collection and disposal of the latter's packaging after use by consumers," Mr Matimba said in a proposal to the Harare City Council on recycling and waste management last year.

"At present, council is collecting packaging including an array of glass beverage bottles, most of which are being imported, as well as metal, plastic and paperboard packaging at great cost to ratepayers and with no contribution from corporates save the occasional symbolic donation of bins or one-day clean- up campaigns."

Mr Matimba said subsidising corporates contradicted international best practice where the business community is expected to, and do look after their products from "the cradle to the grave". Corporates were, as a matter of principle, and in some cases law, required to pay for the cost of disposing of their product packaging after use.

The Zimbabwe National Recycling Programme, as proposed to the council by Mr Matimba, targets systematic recycling and management of waste within Harare starting with Dzivarasekwa and Kuwadzana, where uncollected refuse fed into the deadly outbreak of typhoid last year. ZNRP aimed to collect 75 percent of the waste Harare generates at a quarter of the rates council charges to households.

The outstanding three quarters of the rates would be used to collect organic waste, which only constitutes 25 percent of the waste stream by volume.

"This programme will, therefore, result in a marked reduction in the waste needing collectin by council," Mr Matimba explained.

"At the same time, the council still has 75 percent of its original budget to fund such collections and manage the landfills. Council will be able to perform these functions with its available truck fleet and manpower, making redundant the need for increased collections or equipment and personnel to do so."

On paper, Mr Matimba's project sounds good, excellent even when measured against bin donations. It provides for long-term strategic, definitive and sustainable solutions to the problem of waste in Harare. The solutions may not be permanent, but will clearly result in increased health, economic and environmental benefits for the city. Perhaps ZNRP should be put to the test. It remains unclear why Harare continues to sit on this noble project preferring instead being a zealous recipient of free bin gifts.

For effective pollution control and environment protection, efforts will have to go beyond the council and corporates. The role of the individual in reducing environmental pollution cannot be sufficiently emphasised.

As the polluted public, the individual should ensure pollution is controlled by checking own behaviour and attitudes on refuse disposal. Only then can the public call the corporate environmental polluter to accountability.

Otherwise, businesses will continue to thrive in the polluted atmosphere at the expense of the individual. Effective pollution control calls for a revolutionary change in attitudes and behaviour among all economic agents.

God is faithful.

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