An excessive life with excess waste
The transition from Malawi to UK was simple. The plane took me back with no problems from an airport with 9 flights a day to an airport with 900 flights a day! I landed into a pool of working street lights, fully stocked shops, traffic and a busy 6 lane motorway where I only spotted 1 car failure on the road, all the way home.
I left Malawi in March 2019; heavy rains, floods and strong winds associated with Tropical Cyclone Idai affected approximately 975,600 people with 60 deaths and 672 injuries reported (the Government of Malawi). Major weather storms are predicted to be more frequent as the climate changes and the people most affected will be the ones who depend on the weather and good soils for food.
In Malawi, I had spent 3 years setting up a waste management social enterprise called International Conservation and Cleanup Management (www.iccmanagement.org) to start recycling services and give environmental education to communities which included making products out of waste to create economic stability while cleaning the environment. There was never a dull moment; every day was a challenge in the hope to engage and create better living for Malawian practical communities.
After several practice interviews I was proud to become a project officer in waste management with the Local Council, this provided a new life of structure and routine. As a lone worker I spend most of my time in my car. The ease of door to door journeys includes delivering new recycling services to flats and communicating with the public which usually begins negatively and ends up being positive. This is a country that has economic stability and therefore can develop new recycling services to make recycling as efficient as possible.
The real issue in the UK is just the same as in Malawi; environmental education and the unknown. Not knowing where the waste goes makes the public lazy to recycle and not much thought goes into what waste is being bought in the first place which brings excess waste. We are supposed to REFUSE (to buy the non recyclable material), before we even think to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. People are unaware that we are the ones who manage the source of where the waste stream begins and ends. Through work I can see the changes of the bin store services on the ground, the next few weeks of monitoring will really justify the changes in the bin stores / or perhaps not which will lead to the continual challenges of our UK society.
Malawi challenges were frequent. It was often 1 step forward and 10 steps back which made it really rewarding when we succeeded. Success for me was when I found key people who were passionate to use their environmental / practical skills to encourage small income generating activities. The challenges then led to the economic market, the culture and fashion was definitely not going to support waste being reused and without the market the income generation with communities was impossible.
Malawians often linked waste to disease which was difficult to pass when cholera outbreaks were still rife and definitely linked to the open un-managed waste dumps that kids climbed over to find items to clean and sell. Some Malawians were incredibly resourceful, the waste in rural areas was minimal and the small amounts of plastic packaging would end up as an efficient fuel source to start fires for the daily cooking and washing needs. Nearing into trading centers’ or towns the layers of waste thickened, the lack of services and waste management created ‘plastic blue flowers’ a community leader explained. Piles of burning waste accumulated in the urban areas of Malawi where the council could not reach due to the lack of resources.
As I embed myself back into a society where people worry about ‘Stoptober or whether they managed to get a Glastonbury ticket for next year I feel a great urge to work with the environment and transition into a more sustainable life which is actually very difficult in the UK. In Malawi there were many people you would naturally go one step further for.
My next blog will be looking at different sustainable ways and the challenges for the UK. P.S. ICCM is still progressing in Malawi so if anyone wants to participate in an environmentally rewarding project with skills for grant writing, environmental events or design please let me know!