AT A CROSSROADS: Why Tanzania must invest in proper waste management

A woman scavenges through waste at a landfill in Mwanza. Only about 20 percent of solid waste generated in urban areas in Tanzania reaches landfills, a situation that raises huge health and environmental concerns. PHOTO | FILE

Waste production and management in urban areas form among serious problems, caused by the population increase in those areas. Waste management is a serious global concern. No wonder, early this December, University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) through the Department of Geography in collaboration with Coca Cola hosted “Tanzania Without Waste Forum - Environment and Water Sustainability Dialogue”. The forum brought to the fore the need for educating the public about the dangers of improper disposal of waste, solid waste in particular, and how such waste can be used as an economic opportunity for people to earn a living.

This pushed me to seriously ponder about mismanagement of solid waste. More often than not, it creates hordes of problems to the people and their environment. To people--it causes health risks including diseases, death, and loss of property. To the environment--it creates pollution, and contributes to floods. Meaning, uncollected waste causes obstruction of drainage systems/ waterways, causing floods. The floods at times lead to deaths and increase the government budget in disaster management.

Every household, more so in the urban areas due to concentration of people in small areas, managing solid waste that they generate every day, becomes an uphill task. Some studies indicate that, at times up to 80 percent of solid waste is never collected, meaning it is never disposed, putting the people and environment at huge risks.

So, only 20 percent of waste generated is collected! Researches indicate that, over 70 percent of diseases diagnosed at health facilities in Tanzania are related to water and sanitation issues.

Inefficient solid waste management system may lead to disease breakouts, land and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity. A paper by Yhdego, M., and Kingu, A. (2016) titled “Solid Waste Management in Urban Centers of Tanzania. Leapfrogging Towards A Circular Economy” indicates that the management of solid waste generated in urban centres of Tanzania has been a serious challenge to the local government authorities, though there is a lot of improvements, and we don’t see piles of garbage along the roads as it was in the past.

In urban areas of Tanzania, the management of solid waste is associated with a number of challenges, including sorting it at the source, improper storage, collection, transportation, treatment and finally disposal. The situation is even worse for e-waste (electronic wastes). A recent report indicates that “approximately 500 shipping containers of waste are dumped in Africa every month” and “only 10 percent of all trash produced in Africa are recycled.”

Solid wastes like plastic bottles and plastic bags among others reach water bodies and block the supply of Oxygen (inadequately) to living organisms including fish. This cause such organisms die due to insufficient supply of oxygen.

We need to revisit UN’s Sustainable Development Goals 13, 14, and 15, which encourages locally developed, solutions that would lead to waste prevention, clean-up actions, reusing, repurposing and recycling plastics. In fact, waste management can be a huge business in terms of recycling and production of byproducts, from it. The government has shown a lot of seriousness with issues to do with the environment.

We have in place, laws, policies and regulations touching on solid waste management. What we need are the masses to follow the laws, and to stop throwing and disposing solid waste haphazardly. Taking care of our waste right from the individual, family, village/streets, ward, district, region, to national level, would result in a more healthier Tanzania. Yes, we can do it, we can create a Tanzania without waste, that destroying our people and environment. We must never forget that we are a product of our own environment. So how we keep our environment, also determines how we live in it.

Saumu Jumanne is an assistant lecturer, Dar es Salaam University College of Education (DUCE)