Africa needs a rethink on waste recycling


As the world celebrates the Global Recycling Day on Monday March 18, we turn the spotlight on Africa’s growing consumerism – attributed to rapid urbanization, population growth, and expanding economies. Although waste generation is currently lower in Africa than in the developed world, the UN Habitat projects that Sub Saharan Africa to take the lead globally in terms of total waste generation if current generation trends persist. 

As household incomes increase and purchasing power strengthens on the continent, the World Bank estimates that waste generation will nearly double over the next 20 years in Africa, reaching a staggering 244 million tons per year by 2025. Some of the commonest waste items include plastics, glass, metal, food and grocery waste, wood, rubber and leather. 

According to the UNEP, among the most affected countries on the continent are Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and DRC Congo. Others in the top 10 are Tanzania, Angola, Uganda and Morocco. This influx of waste in Africa poses significant challenges but also presents an opportunity to embrace recycling that ultimately helps preserve resources.  

Recycling, by converting waste materials into reusable ones, can help minimize the extraction of virgin resources, reduces pollution, and mitigates the impacts of climate change. Through recycling, Africa’s abundant waste can help contribute to the region’s sustainable development, job creation, and improved living standards as the 7th resource after water, air, fossil fuels, minerals, land, and biological resources.

In many African countries, waste management systems are often inadequate, leading to environmental degradation and health hazards. However, by adopting an integrated waste management approach with recycling at its core, African nations can effectively address these challenges.  Investments in recycling infrastructure, education, and awareness campaigns can help build a sustainable circular economy capable of managing the rising tide of waste and transforming it into valuable resources. 

One area where recycling can make a significant impact in Africa is in e-waste. As electronics become more prevalent across the continent, the disposal of outdated or broken electronic devices has become a pressing issue. Rather than letting these devices accumulate in landfills, proper recycling can recover valuable metals like gold, silver, and copper, reducing the need for resource-intensive mining activities. 

With proper investment, recycling has the potential to create jobs and stimulate economic growth in Africa. The formal and informal recycling sectors already employ thousands of people, offering opportunities for income generation and poverty reduction. By promoting recycling businesses, governments can encourage entrepreneurship and provide training for a skilled workforce, benefiting both individuals and communities. 

Recycling reduces greenhouse gas emissions, conserves energy, and preserves natural resources. In a region exposed to the adverse effects of climate change, such as droughts and desertification, adopting recycling can help mitigate these challenges and build resilience. 

As the world marks Global Recycling Day, we must rethink our approach to waste handling. And in the letter and spirit of this year’s theme,  #RecyclingHeroes, should be celebrated and supported to do more. 

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