pelican.jpg (333200 bytes)   A Bird's Eye View on Waste

Waste Management

Conference Programme

Recycling and Re-using in Zimbabwe
by Evelyn Murevanhema
Co=ordinator, Recycling and Anti-LItter Programme

This paper presents the current experiences of Zimbabwe in solid waste management. It highlights the issue of scavengers on the dumpsites and also briefly at recycling in Zimbabwe and then goes into depth on the Recycling and Anti-Litter Programme (RAP), an initiative by a Zimbabwean NGO, Environment 2000.It highlights the activities of RAP since 1995 and the way forward in the new millennium

Overview of Solid Waste management

How can we manage all of the waste in an environmentally sound manner; is a complex and often controversial issue which if not properly managed can impact of the environment, the economy and society at large. Water pollution can result not only from dumping trash directly into the lakes, dams and rivers, but also from runoff and leaching from dumps. Air pollution can result from faulty combustion and from decomposition gases surfacing in landfills. Fires, explosions, noxious odours, rodents and disease also must be guarded against in dumpsites or landfills. Any direct contact with refuse can be dangerous in some cases to the public as well as to the waste collectors and processors (who possibly, have among the highest risks to injury than any occupation in the nation).

Zimbabwe mainly operates with what is termed "open dump" sites which are unsafe, unsightly and lead to long term environmental and health problems. To try and avoid these problems, landfills are now becoming more important and an obvious way forward. For landfills to be effective, proper siting, design and operation of disposal facilities need to be considered. There is no single solution to our communities 'solid waste ' problem. To effectively reduce the solid waste management problem, communities need to consider a hierarchy of 'integrated waste management' techniques. This term refers to the complementary use of a variety of waste management practices to safely and effectively handle municipal solid waste with the least harmful impacts on our health and the environment. There is a hierarchy of four levels which are:
1. Source Reduction
Manufacturers may contribute to source reduction by designing and manufacturing products that contain fewer toxins and less packaging. As consumers, we can use our buying power to select more durable and nondisposable products, products that have more than one "life " and those with less packaging and fewer toxic components. One of the best ways to lessen our disposal problems is to reuse many of the things we have habitually thrown out.
2. Recycling and reuse
This is going to be the main focus of this paper. Recycling and reuse includes composting of food and yard waste. Widespread recycling efforts prevent potentially useful materials from being placed in landfills. Reuse of materials also saves energy and natural resources. Recyclables are recycled to make new products.
3. Waste combustion and landfill
Combustion reduces the bulk of municipal waste, while providing the added benefit of energy production. Source reduction and recycling can make combustion and landfill safer and more efficient by reducing the quantity and toxicity of the waste and removing recyclables that may be difficult to combust or may cause potentially harmful emissions.

4. Landfill
This is the major method of solid waste disposal utilised world wide. It is utilised to handle waste that cannot be recycled or safely combusted. Also residual ash from waste combustion must be disposed of in specially designed landfills. It is likely that there will always be some portion of waste requiring landfill no matter how efficient our reduction, recovery, treatment and recycling processes become. We can, however, greatly reduce this portion by becoming aware of our own individual contributions to the solid waste problem and modifying our habits to promote wise use and reuse of our valuable resources.

It is no longer possible to hide the waste problem from the public eye as it threatens to weaken our cities and consume valuable portions of our natural resource base. A transparent process at local authority level is essential involving key stakeholders and A participatory integrated waste management programme is key for long term success and this involves transparency of all stakeholders

Solid Waste Management in Zimbabwe

Solid waste management problems are being faced by most towns and cities in Zimbabwe. Waste collections are inefficient, dump sites are poorly managed and little action is taken to safe guard our natural resources which we depend upon for our survival. Most local authorities are still using the open dump method of waste disposal, however, Gweru municipality has undertaken steps towards preparing a new sanitary landfill site with the help of Envire (Swedish Consultants ) and are moving away from crude dumping. Waste pickers or 'scavengers' have emerged as important 'players' in the waste management economy in Zimbabwe and are also commonly found in other developing countries, namely Brazil. There are a number of people who seek their livelihoods from waste, however, one problem in Zimbabwe is that the scavengers are not officially recognised and at times face harassment from the authorities.
Community groups, schools, the business community , government and local authorities need to work together towards an integrated waste management plan for their growth point, town or city.

Scavengers are reported in all urban centres in Zimbabwe with the highest number found in Harare. Harare's numbers are estimated at 1200 at Golden Quarry and 40 at Pomona prior to closure of Golden Quarry. In addition there are a number of scavengers in the city centres, shopping centre and residential areas. They are seen carrying large numbers of plastic milk bottles and bundles of paper. In Zimbabwe there have been few efforts to recognise the importance of scavenging both as an integral part of the economy, reducing the amount of waste to be disposed of by our local authorities and providing input to the recycling industry. Rather they are stigmatised and looked upon as outcasts. To date scavengers whilst acknowledged as a fact, tend to be referred to as a problem rather than as a component of multiple survival strategies that is increasing especially with the current economic hardship faced by the Zimbabwean people.

One of the few academics who have conducted research into the scavenging phenomenon is Dr Daniel Tevera from the Geography Department of the University of Zimbabwe, whose report of on scavenging practices at Pomona dump site in Harare was produced in 1993. Tevera states that "municipalities can go seriously wrong in their plans for waste management if they overlook the informal recovery and recycling that takes place without official cognisance". He found out that people make a viable livelihood from scavenging especially in contrast to some other informal activities. This was also confirmed by the scavengers themselves, during Environment 2000's visit to the Pomona dump site.
Way forward for scavengers
Innovative initiatives to economically; and socially empower scavengers are widespread throughout Asia and Latin America. In Zimbabwe such initiatives are sadly missing. Clearly, banning scavenging whether by direct prohibition or as a result of planned 'improvements' in waste management practices that deny scavengers access to landfill sites- is neither desirable nor feasible. This is because they would probably simply break the law and continue scavenging on the dump sites and this will lead to a number of undesirable repercussions. The status of scavengers should be recognised by local authorities. Official recognition should be accompanied by the establishment of recycling stations at the landfill sites or transfer stations, access to which could be regulated through scavenger co-operatives and by providing gloves and security clothing for approved scavengers.

A scheme proposed for Bindura is exemplary: widows will be charged with door-to-door collection of separated wastes which will then be transported to a recycling centre that is to serve as a convenient location for the buyers to collect the recyclables. The recycling station will be staffed full-time. Salaries both to the waste collectors and the recycling station staff will be funded from the waste proceeds.

Introduction to Recycling and Reuse in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe has been recycling for more than 30 years. It began in the sixties because of economic isolation and for many years Zimbabwe was the world leader in recycling. For nearly two decades local manufacturers operated on a shoe-string budget which meant that little was wasted. Reusing glass bottles, metal, paper and even water became a way of life.

However, with the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP), there was a dramatic increase in the flow of imported goods, sophisticated packaging and consequently an increase in the volume of waste. For a while it looked as though Zimbabwe, previously a waste conscious society, was catching the modern waste disease.

A number of recycling initiatives are operational in Zimbabwe and there is a developed industrial recycling sector but no central or de-centralised recycling infrastructure has been out in place by the local authorities. Informal recycling activities are also widespread and interconnected with the formal sector. Composting of organic waste is not yet carried our on a large scale.

Recycling Initiatives

Foremost among the recycling community 'initiatives in Zimbabwe is Environment 2000's Recycling & Anti-Litter Programme (RAP). It was established in 1995 in close Cupertino with the recycling waste disposal industry with the aim of developing a recycling and reuse culture in Zimbabwe.

The programme has a committee made up of specialists in the recycling field of various products. This committee is charged with improving awareness and providing information on recycling, reuse and waste management.

The programme has set up RAP pads which are informal return centres for recyclables in over 100 schools where recyclable waste can be taken. There is then a link up with collecting agencies, so that sorted products can be returned for recycling. These schools are currently collecting paper, plastic and beverage cans for recycling and reuse whilst at the same time generating income from the waste. The Rap pads are equipped with panel illustrating the types of waste that are accepted and a colour code to go with it.

RAP Pad Colour Code
Paper Yellow
Plastics Green
Beverage Cans Blue

The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA ) sponsored 32 of these RAP pads to the tune of $105 000. This agency felt that the school system is an invaluable tool for increasing public awareness of the problem. Teachers are in an excellent position to enlighten our younger citizens about how waste management problems relate to them, and how they can contribute to a solution. Children understand the world around them, a world that faces many health and environment problems caused by inadequate pollution control practices of the past. They get to reassess some of their present values and habits and inspire them to make position impact upon the environment through action and understanding. These children can then pass on the message to their parents.

Funds raised through the scheme for the co-ordinating institutions are minimal. The prime objective of the scheme is the raising of environmental awareness.

In some of these schools environmental clubs have been formed with waste management related activities, such as:

- The production of objects from waste materials (plastics, stockings, paper, cardboard e.g. stools from cardboard, flowers from old socks, jingles from coke top bottles) which are sold in students' neighbourhood. However, the students retain little of the proceeds which mostly go either to school funds or the household budgets.
- Production of paper mache objects

- Collection of milk sachets for seedlings in the nursery

These clubs have an impact that goes well beyond their immediate social context. For example Seke VI Primary School environment club was awarded an environmental prize at the Zimbabwe Environment Trust AGM, which had positive resonance through the student body, also as mentioned before students stimulate their parents and other members of their households to adopt environmental responsible practices in their every day lives.

A further expansion of the RAP pad scheme has been the pilot RAP Centre at the Nkulumane shopping centre in Bulawayo, the second largest city in Zimbabwe. The developer Old Mutual saw it essential to include a centre to provide a convenient one stop point where public can deposit all recyclable waste. They worked together with Pearce Partnership Architects to come up with a design for the centre. It is run by an entrepreneur who benefits from the sale of the recyclables at the centre.

Other recycling schemes are operated by the Lions Clubs and other charities including the Island Hospice. These are usually fund raising initiatives, but are driven, as in the RAP scheme, by their organisers' strong environmental awareness.

E 2000 has also been working with a co-operative who have come up with ideas on the reuse of bottle tops which are a menace as they cannot be recycled. Two women are making a name for themselves at exhibitions and fairs by selling brooches, bags caps etc made from bottletops and beverage cans respectively.

Significantly there are as yet no incentives or obligations nor infrastructure in place for household separation of wastes and subsequent recycling of wastes. E 2000 are lobbying to have waste separation included in national legislation and/or municipal by-laws, as a significant step towards minimising the amount of waste that goes to the landfills and in the long term reducing, through conscientising of consumers and waste (packaging) producers, the total amount of waste per capita produced. They also support the establishment of recycling centres close to consumers.

The RAP programme has also grown further targeting at households on a pilot scheme in an area called Bindura. This is a small mining town just outside the capital city of Zimbabwe (Harare ) and their waste collection system is almost non-existent. Ten widows in the Bindura Widows Association will be collecting waste from households and then separating the recyclables from the non-recyclables and then selling the recyclables on to the recycling industry .In this way the widows will be generating some income from recyclables and also helping their local municipality in waste collection.

Recycling Industries

Zimbabwe has a -for African standards -highly developed formal recycling sector. A large number of materials are being collected by organised intermediaries and used as industrial input. These include mainly paper, glass, plastics, cans and bones. Research on the other hand has found that there are serious constraints in the distribution chain for wastes that impinge negatively on the livelihoods of scavengers. For example with the collapse of the kraft paper market last year it meant that the scavengers who were collecting this type of waste had no company to sell it to.


The major agent for waste paper is National Waste Collections (NWC). In particular locally produced packaging in Zimbabwe relies on recycled paper. Most of the waste paper comes from industrial areas, the commercial sector, supermarkets and the Central Business District. All waste paper collected is paid for by NWC.

The amount of glass wastes in Zimbabwe is held low by the practice of charging deposits on bottled drinks which act as an incentive for people to return bottles.

Nevertheless, there are commercial enterprises in addition to bottle producers and bottlers that collect waste glass, such as Excellence Incorporated who collect on behalf of Zimglass who reportedly prefer to recycle glass than produce new glass, due to lower consumption and apparently better quality.

80% of Excellence's volume is from major glass users, 12% from scavengers and 8% from households, charitable organisations and other smaller sources.


Plastics recycling is an established industry in Zimbabwe, with ten or more Harare -based enterprises reported to be operating in the sector, in addition to some companies who recycle their waste plastics in-house. Recycling plastics are sold in Zimbabwe and increasingly to other African countries.

Saltrama Plastics have facilities to recycle both HDPE and LDPE plastics, and produce granules that are sold to plastic manufacturers who in turn produce, amongst other things, heavy duty crockery that is widespread and popular throughout Zimbabwe, as well as heavy plastic bags and irrigation tubes.
Waste plastics are sourced from throughout Zimbabwe, principally from commercial and industrial enterprises such as polyfilm manufacturers.

However, plastics are still a menace in Zimbabwe since the majority is still not recyclable and alternative uses have to be found.

The arrival of the steel can as a drinking containers has been accompanied by the establishment of Collect-a-Can. Collect-a- Can see themselves as in a pro-active, preventative role: they say that the necessity for can recycling arose when controls on the import of cans were lifted under the Economic Structural Adjustment Plan (ESAP).

Collect-a-Can concentrate on beverage cans which are baled after collection and transported for separation and shredding to South Africa.

Clean Up Zimbabwe Campaign

Linked with RAP is the Clean Up Zimbabwe Campaign. E 2000 is a founding member of the Clean Up The World campaign which started some six years ago with a man called Ian Kiernan who sailed around the world and was disgusted by the amount of waste he saw. He decided to embark on a Clean Up Sydney which lead to a Clean Up Australia and this led to Clean Up the World.

Community clean ups provide an opportunity for individuals to take positive action to improve their own environment.

E 2000 started this campaign in 1993 with just about 800 participants in the Clean Up Zimbabwe Campaign in Victoria Falls. Since then every year in September Zimbabwe commemorates this event .Most local authorities in Zimbabwe include this event on their calendars. Some of them e.g. Masvingo municipality have now got some funds for this campaign in their overall budget.

This campaign has seen the participation of the business community, schools , government ,individuals, churches, local authorities etc take part in what is set to be the biggest community movement in Zimbabwe.

Last year (1998)over a million people took part in cleaning up campaign

More interesting is the fact that clean ups are now carried out throughout the year and a change in behaviour and attitudes can do a lot towards our environment.

However, the continued challenge to the campaign is getting the involvement of the corporate sector. This move should see some reduction in the waste on our streets. A balanced mix of public and private sectors can lead to a much more efficient system, incorporation of small -scale enterprises and the informal sector will hold all actors accountable for their actions.


Solid waste management needs to have a holistic approach that includes
- participatory methods
- poverty reduction
- transparency of local authorities
- education and awareness
- integrated into policy and law

E 2000 feels that the government should put forward legislation that any new developments by local authorities should have reclaim centres. The setting up of RAP centres would bring collectors closer to the consumers.

- Regulations for landfill design need to be developed so as to ensure that landfills will remain safe for many years

- Partnerships need to be formed with experienced organisations and councils.

- Awareness and education programmes should be implemented for all Zimbabweans .Action would entail the awakening of awareness on the part of all: policy makers, consumers, business community ,individuals etc. Environmentally conscious behaviour as well as direct action by all has to be brought to bearing

- There should be appropriate conceptions of environmental issues in the Zimbabwean curricula i.e. waste management

- Waste management must become a way of life for all Zimbabweans. They must realise that they all have a role to play and can contribute to a solution to the national waste problems

- There should be an exchange of entrepreneurs skills to other towns and cities. i.e. the co-operatives who make earrings from bottles or mats from plastic should train other people in other towns their skills.


1.UNCHS/Habitat A Reference Handbook for Trainers on Promotion of Solid Waste Recycling, (September 1994)

2.Tevera.D (1995),Zimbabwe Urban Solid Waste Management Study (for Ministry of Local Government ,Rural and Urban Development );cf. also his study on scavengers, Waste Recycling as a Livelihood in the Informal Sector

3.Ngwenya .P (July 1995),Waste Management Plan for Gweru City Council

4.USEPA Lets Reduce and Recycle,(August 1990 )

5.Environment 2000 reference book on The Whys and Hows of Recycling and Reuse,(1995)

Environment 2000 P O Box A639 Avondale Harare Zimbabwe
Tel 263 4 302276 or 302886 fax 263 4 339691