by Ruth Aine - 30 June 2014
In my last year or so of secondary school, which was a long time ago, the school administration introduced guidelines to help us sort out our waste. That meant two dustbins for each dormitory. Aplastic one for organic waste and a non-plastic one for non-organic waste. In a school of over 500 girls, one would think that this would be easier than it would be for boys, for example. But it was not. It was still a lot of work. Occasionally one would find the waste interchanged and no one would volunteer to sort it out, because it was definitely no one’s business. I do not know if it was the setting or rather about school girls just being naughty, but one would have expected better.
In March 2011, the Kampala City Council became an entity under the central government as a local government. As the change happened, one of the key challenges then was inadequate solid waste management: uncollected garbage that resulted into a waste pile up and filth in the city. The accumulated waste was frequently washed into the drainage systems, resulting in uncontrolled floods in the city. According to the Kampala Capital City Authority, in 2011 the city was generating an estimated 1,500 tons of garbage daily, but over the years only 500 tons a day were picked up. This caused garbage to accumulate in neighbourhoods, on street corners and in local markets with resultant health risks and other environmental concerns.
So, my city and my school obviously had challenges with waste collection over time. And their story replicates very soundly in school, communities and towns across Uganda. Waste and garbage collection services are still amiss. We have not done enough to rectify the dire state that we are in. It is not something that comes easily to us. Growing up as children, we had a compost pit in the garden. All waste, apart from needles and plastics, was taken there. When it got full, it was covered and another big hole dug. Needles, razor blades and glass were thrown into the pit latrine. Plastics were mostly recycled. The biggest problem was and still is the polythene bags. For those we have yet to find a solution.
I have known Paul Mubito* for about five years now. He has now discovered a new line of work that ties into saving the environment and managing waste. I was surprised to learn about it via Facebook. He has started a company that manufactures briquettes, an alternative to charcoal. According to him, it takes 1000 kg of firewood to make 100-150 kg of charcoal. An average household will use approximately 50 to 70 kg per month. Loosely translated that is between 500-700 kg of wood per month - at least three fair sized trees. That rate of destruction cannot be averted by even the best tree planting program in the world.
The briquettes are made from carbonized waste and sugar. They come as a solution to two things: deforestation and carbonized waste. They are supposed to be an alternative for the people that use charcoal and firewood. However, they are not yet that popular because they are quite expensive. Briquettes are made by carbonizing dry biomass through partial pyrolysis and compacting the charred biomass waste feedstock, such as sawdust, biogases, coffee husks, maize cobs and twigs into finished briquettes. This method is one of the many innovations that have been put forward as a solution to sustainability in the community.
We have not put any thought into making use of waste as a nation and a continent, to sort it and help the environment. These are problems that we have created for ourselves. We cannot blame anyone for this.
While I am glad that we are all growing economically and are developing at a great speed, it is important that we understand the impact of this on us as nations. The era of compost pits is gone. Unlike in the past, pit latrines are very rare these days. They can be found mostly in the rural areas. What country and government initiatives do we have to help us grow in this area? It would be great to share them!
* name changed