Building a circular economy from the ground up: The Gambia

WasteAid The Gambia

Circular Online spoke to WasteAid to understand the Circular Economy Network in The Gambia and how it’s helping to build a circular economy from a grassroots level.

Referred to as the “smiling coast of Africa” because of its beaches along the Atlantic Ocean, The Gambia is the smallest country on the mainland of the continent, with a population of 2 million. Aside from its 80 km coastline, the country is entirely bordered by Senegal on all three sides.

The country is known for its peanut production and exports and due to The Gambia river that the country follows in land for around 320km, which effectively splits the country in two. Agriculture accounts for roughly 30% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and employs about 70% of the labour force.

However, The Gambia also has extreme poverty and ranks 172 out of 189 countries on the Human Development Index – a composite statistic of life expectancy, per capita income indicators and education.

The two largest cities in The Gambia are Serekunda and the capital Banjul, which is on an island where the Gambia River meets the Atlantic Ocean and where the majority of the  WasteAid’s Circular Economy Network’s members are based.

What is the WasteAid project in The Gambia?

Banjul, Gambia

The Circular Economy Network (CEN) is a project by WasteAid and CIWM that aims to develop a membership network that brings people together in The Gambia who can support each other in the development of a circular economy and is self-sustaining once the project is completed.

Still in its infancy, the CEN is aiming to be a “CIWM-lite” that brings together stakeholders from the private sector, municipalities and the wider industry. Despite only launching in January 2022, the CEN already has 100 members, far exceeding its original target for the timeframe of 30.

The CEN provides training to professionals within the sector and offers Capital Expenditure funding through WasteAid’s Waste to Use Challenge.

Known locally as the Dennakuwo Project, WasteAid is currently trying to build up the membership base and deliver relevant, useful training and capacity building to showcase the value the CEN has. This value includes conversations with CIWM members and access to a dedicated section on CIWM Connect, which is launching at the end of the month.

The Gambia
The Gambia is the smallest country on the mainland of the continent, with a population of 2 million.

By increasing the CEN’s visibility through training, events and the Waste to Use challenge, the aim is to build trust with stakeholders and showcase the value of the network.

WasteAid wants the project to be self-sustaining, which is why much of the actions the organisation is taking is to ensure the CEN offers value and is visible to potential members.

Once the network grows, it’s hoped the membership will have a flywheel effect where members add more and more value over time. In the 18 months the project is running, WasteAid wants to give the flywheel the first initial push, so the network can be self-sustaining and successful long term.

The current project builds on the presence the charity has had in the country since 2015. Throughout this time, WasteAid has delivered the country’s first waste composition analysis and built stakeholder awareness of sustainable waste management approaches.

WasteAid said that there is limited waste collection service and the majority of waste in the country is disposed of at informal dumping sites, which not only makes it extremely difficult to recover value from the waste but also puts communities at risk.

Next year, WasteAid is hoping to pilot approaches to recovery and reuse of waste in The Gambia, as well as launching a behaviour change campaign.

Implementing the project 


The network approach has been tried and tested in Vietnam, India and South Africa and WasteAid has now tailored it to The Gambia. 

This involved engaging with stakeholders and commissioning baseline surveys to understand the challenges people in the industry wanted help addressing. Feedback from the surveys showed stakeholders wanted access to training.

Every action WasteAid takes on the project is informed by these initial consultations, which is why they offered members training on making briquettes, composting, sustainable packaging and zero waste approaches.

Training is one way WasteAid says they are adding takeaway value to the CEN and have received positive feedback from members. During networking events, where members can meet and potentially form partnerships, the days also feature training courses based on subjects members have highlighted as important to them.

Through these network days, WasteAid is aiming to foster partnerships between members which help stakeholders work towards implementing a circular economy. Training is another way to add value so the project grows organically from a grassroots level. 

The Waste to Use Challenge

Serrekunda, Gambia

A big part of WasteAid’s Circular Economy Network model in South Africa, India and Vietnam involved engaging with entrepreneurs and innovators working across the circular economy through a Zero Waste Cities Challenge.

This inspired the Waste to Use Challenge in The Gambia, which announced its three finalists Plastics Recycling Gambia Ltd, African Swag Collection and Green Waste Initiative. The three companies are currently undergoing business mentoring in preparation for their final pitch in December.

Following a “Dragon’s Den-style” pitch, the winner will receive an investment of D350,000.

While the competition is inspired by challenges WasteAid has organised in other countries, the unique value of the competition is it focuses on the grassroots level.

Feedback from stakeholders informed WasteAid that access to Capital Expenditure funding in The Gambia is limited. Loans are often only available at unsustainable interest rates. The challenge aims to offer a solution. However, all finalists leave with value, not only the winner, through training.

This challenge is an opportunity for businesses already pioneering ways to recover, reuse and divert as much waste as possible from landfill in the Greater Banjul Area to develop their businesses, as well as creating much-needed livelihoods for people in poverty.

WasteAid says the challenge has been a key to increasing the network’s visibility. A call was put out across the country for any companies operating in the circular economy to enter the competition, which shows there is a diverse sector already operating in The Gambia.

The finalists

Plastics Recycling Gambia Ltd

Plastics Recycling Gambia Ltd buys plastic waste from established companies, dump sites and individuals, and informal waste collectors. Across the greater Banjul area and Barra, the company has set up more than 21 buying/collection points.

At each collection point is an allocated person who buys plastics from local residents which are then sorted by type, colour and quality before being stripped of residual waste. The clean and sorted plastic is ground and packaged into 25kg bags.

From there, the re-grind is used to manufacture bins for local communities, tiles and agricultural tools. Alternatively, the re-grind could be sold to plastic manufacturing companies in local and regional markets in Senegal and The Gambia.

African Swag Collection

The tailoring and design business African Swag collection produce contemporary male, female and children’s apparel. It also recycles plastic waste, primarily bubble wrap, and reuses fabric waste to manufacture fashion accessories.

The company uses the 3R methodology (Reuse, Reduce and Recycle) to turn bubble wrap into products such as school bags, jackets and servicing aprons, as well as many other items. African Swag Collection also trains young girls at its production centre on how to create its products.

Green Waste Initiative

The social enterprise Green Waste Initiative specialises in producing and selling briquettes. It also promotes educational awareness about air pollution from charcoal and firewood and the contribution of deforestation to global warming.

Green Waste Initiative is currently working on Rinkoo, which it describes as a smokeless charcoal briquette that is durable, safe and healthy. It made the project to discourage cutting down trees and says the ash produced from the fuel can be used as organic fertiliser for flowers and plants.

Building a Circular Economy from the ground up

Banjul, The Gambia

Through the project in The Gambia, WasteAid is trying to fast-track solutions to the circular economy. However, the focus isn’t on the environment. WasteAid says the project is designed to support the poorest and most vulnerable communities in The Gambia. It’s about the people and the environment together.

Value isn’t only extracted at end markets or when you save on costs by reusing or repairing an item, the circular economy creates jobs and diverse business opportunities. Creating jobs through the project is its key aim, as well as trying to remove damaging materials from the environment.

Right now, WasteAid is doing this by offering relevant training opportunities based on feedback from members of the Circular Economy Network. The organisation is also empowering grassroots-level businesses through the Waste to Use Challenge.

The approach makes sense, local communities and municipalities know what waste management challenges they have, and WasteAid’s project aims to enable them to implement long-term solutions.

What are the next steps?

The Gambia

In the future, CIWM members will be able to get more involved with the project through CIWM Connect – an online community forum for members to share ideas and advice, solve problems and ask and answer questions.

There will be a dedicated area on CIWM Connect where members and members of the Circular Economy Network can interact, which will be live by the end of November.

Despite still being at the beginning of the project, WasteAid has exceeded its initial target of CEN members, recruiting more than 100 professionals to the network already. 

The training and networking events have also brought together people who can contribute to the creation of a circular economy in The Gambia.

The next step for the project is to ensure it is 100% self-sustaining, so it’s owned and run by the people of The Gambia.

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