Young climate leader Edward Msiska requested help with deforestation and waste in the first #COP26Voices video. Below’ we have a special post of the ICCM’s timely response to Edward’s call for action.

Waste in Malawi –Words from the ICCM.

Young climate leader Edward Msiska requested help with deforestation and waste in the first video #COP26 Voices. Edward, there is good news. International Conservation and Clean Up Management (ICCM) based in Lilongwe recently published a study about waste management and communities. During 2020 ICCM spoke to many people working in waste, a project funded by a grant from the Scottish Government’s International Small Grants programme through WasteAid.

What’s the problem with waste?

People and businesses around the word are producing more and more waste. The more waste we throw away, the bigger the waste management problem becomes. In Malawi as people move to the cities and work in a cash economy, the waste problem keeps growing. Proper waste management is expensive – check your Council Tax bill to see how much you pay here in Scotland. In Malawi only people who live in wealthier neighbourhood have a waste collection service. Most people don’t have their waste collected, so they dump their rubbish in open spaces, throw it in ditches, or burn it – it’s a mess. Rubbish lying everywhere is a menace to public health and pollutes the environment.

What was the feasibility study about?

The feasibility study looked into how to help communities manage their waste better. ICCM interviewed a range of stakeholders involved in waste management, including officials in government departments and local authorities, authorised waste collectors, and many informal waste pickers and waste innovators.

What did the study find?

The laws, policies and strategies designed to manage waste in Malawi are good, but the authorities lack the resources to implement them effectively. This is a common problem in low-income countries.

The waste management hierarchy diagram (pictured above), shows that disposal should be the last resort for dealing with waste.  Malawi has rubbish dumps outside the big cities, but these dumps are not like the carefully controlled sanitary we have in Scotland.

Waste can be sold if it is cleaned and sorted into different types – paper, plastics, metals, glass etc. Here in Scotland householders start sorting waste and sorting continues at an industrial high-tech ‘materials recycling facilities’. In Malawi most waste is sorted by hand, thousands of informal workers pick and collect all kinds of waste both from dumps and from the streets.  These waste pickers either sell this waste or upcycle it into new product. Metal waste has the highest value; in some interviewees had been making a living for decades by turning scrap metal into household pots and pans or into hand tools like hoes. Others collected plastic bottles for reuse.  One man collected scraps of material and foam to make pillows, another collected bottle tops to make counters for school pupils, another collected wire to make toys. Some entrepreneurs try to make a business from composting the bio-degradable waste, but compost quality varies and customers often prefer to buy a sack of fertiliser. The markets buying waste are not easily found; some local companies buy raw wastes in bulk although interviewees complained about the low prices, some innovators sell products made from waste in local markets, and a few sell products made from waste to tourists as souvenirs – well they did before the Covid pandemic scuppered that trade. Shockingly, ICCM discovered that hardly anyone used personal protective equipment like gloves, boots or masks when processing waste.

What happens now?

The report recommends 5 projects.

  • Formation of a Malawi Waste Consortium to network the many different players working in the waste sector. This will help waste buyers to meet sellers more easily; because when waste has value, it becomes a valuable resource which isn’t thrown away.
  • A programme to train informal workers in waste recycling and business skills.
  • Improving waste infrastructure and developing a waste management hub to act as a demonstration site and a model for others to replicate.
  • A national advocacy campaign to increase awareness about the problems of waste and how to improve waste management.
  • An apprenticeship programme to provide mentoring and encourage creative young people to innovate with waste.

Towards the end of 2020 President Dr Lazarus Chakwera initiated National Clean Up days. This is a fantastic first step, and but collecting doesn’t magic the rubbish away, it moves it into big piles. ICCM plans to build on the Clean Up Days and take forward the recommendations in the report and is looking for willing partners. Anyone interested in helping ICCM to improve waste management in Malawi please contact

We can dream that one day we all live in a circular economy with zero waste. What a great ambition for Malawi’s Vision 2063 and for Scotland too. But realising the dream is going to take time and a lot of hard work; let’s get on with it.

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