Harmonising, humanising circular economy, the recycling fraternity


By Peter Makwanya

Many individuals and organisations interested in environmental issues are yet to come out due to fear of being stigmatised.  They view it as dehumanising, yet it is a community of practice that can bring numerous green opportunities and environmental sanity.

March 18, 2022 is World Recycling Day, a day set aside to recognise recycling in attaining United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. Unfortunately, this day has just passed without any activity of note.

The theme for this year is Recycling Fraternity, which is quite encompassing and inclusive. This recycling community of practice has been neglected, often stigmatised thereby lacking harmonisation and the human face it deserves.

The circular economy is big business and a sustainable environmental charge that can be placed at the heart of sustainable waste recovery, reduction and reuse.

Uncollected solid waste has been an eyesore worldwide, especially in urban areas due to poor garbage collection systems by municipalities. In Zimbabwe, the first Friday of every month was set aside as National Cleaning Day, but it is slowly fading as it did not receive the support it deserves.

Furthermore, waste collection is risky and requires appropriate safety materials and equipment. Without these tools, waste collection remains a no-go area. For this reason, everyone involved in this community of practice requires support, capacitation and recognition.

This means waste collection should not be viewed in isolation, but opportunities need to be availed. The majority of waste pickers and collectors still engage in this practice away from the public glare due to stigmatisation.

These people need support, motivation, training, funding and recognition so that they can deliver results and solutions to waste problems.

The demise of Hunyani Paper Mills left a gap in the waste collection and recycling sector. This is also worsened by poor service delivery by local authorities and lack of privatisation of the waste collection business, leading to waste and litter piling up at undesignated points. This has resulted in plastic waste accumulating at undesginated points. These plastics always find their way into water bodies.

As the world commemorates World Recycling Day, it is important to map the way forward and proffer solutions to the plastic waste  menace.

Lack of circular economy policy mainstreaming in developing countries contributed to gaps that need to be filled.

The human face to this community of practice requires multi-sectoral approach because it is everybody’s problem.

While there are heroes who deserve special mention such as Ronnie Mbaisa, who has taken circular economy to greater heights, we cannot say it has penetrated the people’s hearts.

Developing countries also need expertise and competencies to deal with the dangers of e-waste.

E-waste has long-term effects on the health and wellbeing of society.

With high unemployment rates in developing countries, the circular economy needs to be placed at the heart of economic development and incentivised to create green business opportunities, especially for the youths. From the look of things, struggling municipalities in developing countries cannot cope with the amounts of both solid and e-waste, hence the need to motivate and reward youths with waste management opportunities.

Public-private sector partnerships are required to mobilise and provide circular finances, situate the circular economy at the heart of sustainable mitigations and adaptations. While a number of waste materials are recyclable or can easily decompose, plastics are not easily bio degradable. As such, it requires technological expertise and competencies to recycle plastics.

Against this background, this year’s theme will enable communities to do away with the culture of throwing garbage around and mismanaging litter.

Human behaviour, practices and perceptions need to be checked, corrected and streamlined so that waste pickers are seen in good light not as waste scavengers, but as essential building blocks in the circular economy trajectories. The circular economy is the way to go. Therefore, whatever sustainability issue at hand, there is need for it to have a human face, be foregrounded and mainstreamed.

Stakeholders need to enhance business models that help to reduce waste material of goods and services by practising reduction, recycling and reuse. This is important for value addition and beneficiation of the waste materials.

  • Peter Makwanya is a climate change communicator. He writes here in his personal capacity and can be contacted at: petrovmoyt@gmail.com