Environmental care has become a more mainstream conversation in light of the growth in climate justice activity. Gone are the days when being eco-conscious was the preserve of tree hugging hippies. With clear and evidenced proof that the ill-treatment of our surroundings leads to harrowing consequences for everyone on earth, there is a culture of recycling that is taking on a different form of advocating.
In previous iterations, recycling was seen as for those without the means to continually spend on new things. However, with the shift to attaching monetary value to recycling activities, people are being awakened to the ways they can directly benefit from proper waste management while also making it a lifestyle choice.
The Ministry of the Environment, Natural Resource Conservation and Tourism has stepped into the field to not only raise awareness of the value of healthy environments and ecological care, but also to court Batswana yearning for modes of poverty alleviation. The ministry, through a waste management project piloted in June 2021 in collaboration with UNDP, is keen to show how recycling can be interwoven into various spheres of our lives – from workplaces to our homes. The pilot was run on Government Enclave as an initial means of extending the applications of the Integrated Waste Management Policy that was approved by Parliament in April 2021.
Officiating at the launch ceremony, Philda Nani Kereng, the Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism stated: “Wastepaper and other recyclable waste, if properly segregated from other waste in our offices, can provide opportunities for the establishment of small enterprises for reuse and recycling.”
The waste management industry can indeed be a major economic contributor. In South Africa, the industry is worth R25 billion. The statistics for 2019 saw Botswana’s neighbour recycling over 70 percent of metal beverage cans, 42 percent glass and 30 percent plastic packaging, according to Recycling International.
It is worth noting, however, that responsible waste management is not solely beneficial to personal and national budgets, as highlighted by Nomhle Mokhosoa. An avid, semi-professional recycler since 2007, Mokhosoa points out that “it is not an economic venture but an environmental responsibility”
SADC also lists waste management among some of the most pressing challenges to development in the region alongside pollution, inadequate access to sanitation services and poor urban conditions. At the 2022 instalment of the Waste Pitso – which has been running since 2016 as a means of fostering cross-industry planning for facing the task of waste management and job creation – Kereng announced a voucher system to incentivise members of the community at large to collect recyclable waste so as to redeem points which can be used to pay bills, purchase airtime or buy groceries. This is a low skill initiative move towards making recycling a part of the local culture, something that has waned in previous years.
On the matter of the impact of not getting aggregated waste management institutionalised, Mokhosoa remarks that “there is simply too much waste going into our landfills” adding that “for a country as small as Botswana, there is no way we can keep going like this”. While she has been in the industry for 15 years and now focusing on glass recycling, she laments that the lack of facilities such as furnaces for melting and blowing glass locally impacts the growth and diversification of initiatives such as hers.
Businesses such as Dumatau Trading, focusing on paper and plastic, Collect-a-Can, focusing on metals, and Somarela Tikologo, focusing on glass and cans, have been carrying the weight of assisting Batswana by receiving post-industrial and post-consumer waste aggregated by consumers. It is a welcome development to have governmental engagement in mapping the future of waste management for profit.
Eco-conscious entrepreneurs are also sprouting all across the world, with some making themselves present in Botswana. Wada Kealotswe launched her business, Eco Zera, which makes pencils out of recycled paper in 2019 following winning a World Bank pitching competition. Over two years of production, the company has made over 40,000 pencils with 39,000 already sold on the market. BigSip Co., Botswana’s first craft beer company, has also instated a bottle return policy for its clientele to assist in maintaining a circular economy.
On a grander scale, however, there are operators such as Gjenge Makers Ltd and Eco Blocks and Tiles in Kenya who make paving blocks and roofing tiles out of recycled plastic respectively. In Ghana, Nelson Boateng builds houses using bricks made from recycled plastic blocks through his company, Nelplast Eco GH.
Though there is much yet to be done in Botswana in order to catch up with economies that not only view responsible waste management as important to community well-being, but also a worthy economic relief avenue, the journey has begun. Those already in the field, like Mokhosoa, remind us: “The ideal would be to take the waste materials and convert them into something for long-term use but without expending a lot of energy.”
The caution is to not use excessive materials to arrive at a novel product yet generating more waste than would have come from not doing so. The future seems promising for the waste management sector in Botswana. It is now upon us all to play our parts.