In this third and final special report from The Gambia, CIWM’s Immediate Past President Dr Anna Willetts explores the work of the local authority and newly formed waste collection systems in The Gambia.
CIWM’s fact-finding trip to The Gambia has been utterly fascinating. We have learned lots about the amazing work that WasteAid has been doing in the country with CIWM funding, and we’ve spotted many similarities between the challenges faced by the Gambian municipalities and those encountered by the UK’s local authorities – even if the solutions are often quite different.
In the UK, we take it for granted that we have regular refuse collections, but a third of the world’s population is forced to dump their waste or burn it, causing disease, polluting the oceans, and contributing to global climate change. WasteAid’s Michelle Wilson, who accompanied us on the trip, told me there are many reasons behind this lack of waste-management infrastructure.
“Waste management is at the end of a long list of priorities for many developing countries, behind education, health and public servant salaries,” Wilson explained. “A low tax base, because of high levels of unemployment, means councils simply do not have sufficient budget to invest in regular collection systems.”
Capital cities, such as Banjul in The Gambia, have rapidly expanding populations, as people move in from the countryside to seek employment, Wilson added. “This puts even more pressure on public services,” she said. “The outcome is uncontrolled dumping – the one functioning semi-controlled dumpsite in Banjul is running out of space.”
On this visit, we have seen many private-sector entrepreneurs working in The Gambia, providing vital resource-recovery services. One solution to reducing the amount of waste burned or dumped is to support these local entrepreneurs, helping them to grow their businesses. WasteAid’s Waste to Use challenge was part of a plan to fast-track circular economy initiatives in The Gambia.
“The challenge has been an excellent way to find out which entrepreneurs are active and working across the various waste streams,” Wilson said. “We started with a citywide invitation in 2022, encouraging companies to enter the challenge via radio and the Circular Economy Network. WasteAid ensured that the entry process was as inclusive as possible, with online and paper routes available.
The challenge has been an excellent way to find out which entrepreneurs are active and working across the various waste streams
“Over three months, we received around 20 entries from a range of entrepreneurs working on circular economy initiatives – from organics and textiles to tyres and plastics. These were shortlisted against criteria such as sustainability, the potential for job creation, and how much material they might be able to remove from landfill.
“We interviewed shortlisted candidates to narrow down the field to three finalists who it was felt had the greatest potential to grow as businesses: The Green Waste Initiative; African Swag Collection; and Plastics Recycling Gambia.”
All three enterprises were offered business incubation support for their business over four weeks, to help them hone their plans and ideas. The training was delivered through one-to-one mentoring by business specialists. All of this culminated in a final pitch day, on which the finalists presented their ideas in front of a panel of Gambian business and environment experts.
“The eventual winner was Plastics Recycling Gambia, which received £5,000 to invest in the business,” Wilson said. “The funding will allow it to expand its network of collectors, kick-start collections in areas that had been dormant during Covid, and invest in a new site to expand production capacity from 30m tonnes per month to 50m tonnes per month.”
Alongside this financial support, Plastics Recycling Gambia has received valuable follow-up mentoring and support. The two runners-up received £500 each to invest in their production systems, as well as continued mentoring and coaching.
So, what’s next for the challenge? The aim is to expand it to different sectors – organics, textiles and plastics – and widen it out to local councils, which can bid for opportunities to trial collection ideas.
It is impossible for local government to tackle the waste and environmental crisis on its own.
“It was so exciting to see the quality of ideas from the entrants, which confirms to us that grassroots organisations are key to the development of a vibrant circular economy in The Gambia,” said Wilson.
“It is impossible for local government to tackle the waste and environmental crisis on its own. The ambition and drive of all of our entrants, particularly given their age, is amazing to see.
“WasteAid will continue to support the sector through the Circular Economy Network and looks forward to seeing those companies flourish.”
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