Could Material Reuse and Recycling be the Answer to Achieving the MDGs for Africa?

MDGs job creation recycling poverty eradication
Tuesday, 26 June, 2012 - 11:59

African countries should consider investing in waste management, which can contribute towards achieving the UN MDGs and also ensure environmental sustainability

Much debate surrounds the real progress made by Africa to date with regards to attaining the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). If the aim of having the MDGs was to encourage development by improving socio-economic conditions in the world’s poorest countries, why then, after over a decade of the initial meeting and with just under four years left to reach the set deadline, are the poorest nations still poor, and in some cases their conditions have even deteriorated since the turn of the millenium? Have the world leaders commited themselves in principle to something they know they will not achieve in practice? Has the environment, which is the most important resource essential to achieving these goals, been conserved and utilised sustainably so as to assist in poverty eradication?

Most of our problems today are a result of poor policy planning, rampant corruption and greed among those in governments themselves. Governments are failing to render basic service delivery to citizens. There is a lag in employment opportunities, which has led to Africa being the ‘poorest’ continent. Perhaps now is the time for Africa to look at newer avenues so as to convert today’s ‘challenges’ into tomorrow’s opportunities. What if Africa looks at recycling, not just in principle, but also in practice? What if we look at recycling as a solution to ending poverty? As a strategy that will help attain universal education and promote gender equality? What if we see an opportunity in waste recycling to help combat HIV and AIDS pandemic and promote and foster sustainable partnerships, together with ensuring environmental sustainability? Perharps waste management and recycling could be the answer Africa is looking for to attaining the MDGs by the year 2015.

It has been generally accepted that in any crisis (economic, social, natural) strapped nation, especially the less economically empowered world, the physical environment tends to suffer the most from human interference due to man’s coping strategies. The effects of the economic recession has had on many western countries has had drastic effects on African economies. Many have been left without a source of income due to mass retrenchments by many companies. This has played negatively on Africa’s human development, as can be seen by the number of African countries ranked to have very low human development in the 2010 Human Development Index Report. This has also added more burden to the already existing situation in development patterns in Africa, where unemployment and poverty levels are generally high.

The reason why Africa has been lagging in achieving the MDGs, with little progress being recorded for the whole region, has been because of the lack of financially empowering employment opportunities that focus on the most disadvantaged. With high unemployment rates being prevelant, and many countires going through economic chaos due to unaccountability of public office bearers, Africa as a whole will certainly not be able to reach the MDGs before the set 2015 date. Formal employment is hardly readily available, and nepotism and greed have seen only a priviledged few being absorbed into the mainstream economy. However, provision of a steady income to households through selling of waste has potential of seeing many families send their children off to school, and hence achieve universal primary education in societies that are currently fincancially and economically challenged in Africa.

So, will introduction of recycling initiatives and a scaling up of already existing initiatives in Africa mean a reduction in poverty and thereby address the development goals before 2015?

The Cooperative Model - A coordinated and focused approach to waste recycling, employment creation, poverty alleviation and Africa’s attaining of the MDGs:

The cooperative model is one that many African countries can relate to. Even in the early ‘primitive’ years of Africa’s development, many of our forefathers believed in ‘strength in numbers’ to get a particular task done. If properly coordinated, the cooperative model can offer poverty alleviation solutions not only in the waste recycling sector, but in all other sectors outside the mainstream economy. This is because employment creation opportunities created through the cooperative model are vast as compared to individual efforts. Much can be achieved with regards to poverty alleviation and other MDGs, apart from attaining environmental sustainability. One cooperatively run recycling initiative, for instance, a multi recycling buy-back centre, can create employment opportunities for no less than five individuals. The average direct beneficiary number per initiative can be 15, with an unlimited number of indirect beneficiaries who will be selling recyclable material to the buy back centre, in return for cash. In the end, depending on the locality, the sphere of influence that such an initiative can have will be large, extending to other communities where such initiatives are not readily available. Hence, everyone within the chain, from the street and kerbside waste picker to the cooperative running the buy back centre will have some form of income, that will help them meet some of their day to day needs.

However, this can be best achieved if all stakeholders; including government, community members, schools, private sector and civil society, play their respective roles to providing an environment conducive for the promotion of these recycling initiatives in areas where there are high unemployment rates and environmental degradation owing to a lack of waste management services. The contributions of waste recycling to attaining the MDGs are unlimited. However, it is only through a properly planned and coordinated cooperative model structure that will help provide bulk buying, branding, marketing and financial services to both direct and indirect beneficiaries that the real benefits of waste recycling are realised and contribute to Africa’s attempt to reaching these goals. In so doing, African communities both rural and urban are empowered to be socially, economically and financially sustainable. Perhaps it is time for government to strongly consider recycling as a potential economic game changer in Zimbabwe as well.

- Eliot Chisango is a researcher (focusing on waste management, recycling and sustainable development under the Environment sector) with P.E.A.C.E Foundation Trust, a Johannesburg-based NGO working towards addressing rural poverty. For more information on the Foundation’s activities, refer to

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