Thursday, 24 October 2019

An excessive life with excess waste

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 ( 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. 

Luckily my job and many inspirational and strong Malawi communities have created a new path for me. We do not need to have an excessive life with excess waste. Your waste, your attitude and your life does matter to the millions who live on this planet. Our oceans and the internet create a smaller world which would be much healthier if we worked with the environment.  People are people, I believe in community engagement as a way to influence and encourage people to change their ways and go green!

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!

Sunday, 25 February 2018

From waste management to financial freedom

Mtendere Chimaliro and her husband with the tin cans collection
International Conservation and Clean up Management / ICCM have linked with a construction project at Never ending food in Chitedze. The client was happy to create a roof constructed with tin cans. We have bought tin cans for the price of 80 MKW (8p) per tin can and we will need about 3000 tin cans in total to complete the roof.

Meet Mtendere Chimaliro, an economically deprived Malawian woman making a living out of waste collection. As we drove to her place with Nyomi and George (ICCM team), I couldn’t stop imagining how exciting the experience of meeting her would be. Mtendere lives at 6 miles in area 36 Lilongwe. She is a proud mother of two beautiful girls and a wife to a waste collector. Here is how the interview went.

We started the waste collection business in 2016 together with my husband.

Well, before the business we were employed to guard the unfinished house that we live in by the owner, who was very rich. Eventually the rich man passed away and we were allowed to stay in the house but our salaries became rental fee. That is when we resorted to the waste collection business as a way of supplementing our income.

The business is very easy to start as it requires very little capital and as we live next to 6 miles dump site (Lilongwe City Council Waste land fill dump) it was an approachable place to obtain waste and sell the items.

We collect all types of waste from dump areas and we sell them on the streets to any interested people particularly tin smiths, recently there has been a huge demand for tin cans hence the scarcity of Tin cans in the dump areas. With this development, we buy tins at a wholesale price and sell them at retail prices. International Conservation and Clean up Management (ICCM) on behalf of a construction project buys over 250 tin cans every month at a very good price and this is much better than selling on the street because the price is more beneficial and they also buy in huge quantities. In this way, we are able to realize tangible profits from the business.

We collect from 6 miles dump site and sometimes we buy from the boys who bring them to us. Back then we used to go to crossroads hotel to collect tin cans but some other big companies took over and we no longer get tins from crossroads.

Since ICCM started buying tins from us, life has really changed for the better. Now we can afford three meals a day and my daughter enrolled into a technical college with the same money we get from the business.

Never ending food
Permaculture Discovery Centre

It was really interesting to meet this lady and see how ICCM could change lives by creating a waste value chain. The lady clearly has managed the project well showing good business skills using her initiative to set up structures for smaller groups to provide her tins from the dump site. I feel privileged to work with ICCM to create such community led projects. We also found out that Chinese companies buy cleaned and cut up plastic bottles at a price of 250mkw (25p) per kg. ICCM will also be helping her by advising labour and cost analysis for her different waste management projects.

As cholera outbreaks exceed in Lilongwe especially in area 36 we can closely link the mismanagement of waste that attributes to ground water pollution and see how this one lady can make such a difference building up social, economic and environmental impacts in her area.

Monday, 8 January 2018

Malawi's endless resources of waste and environmental innovations

Malawi is one of the world's least developed countries, ranked 170th out of 187 countries according to the Human Development Index 2012 and is among the countries with the highest population density in Africa with a population estimated to be 15 million inhabitants.

With an increasing population and not enough services within Lilongwe City Centre there is a huge pressure on the environment damaging the land, waterways and bringing disease because of mismanaged waste to the people. There are a lack of bins and waste sorting structures.

"City Council is the main service provider of refuse collection. The participation of private organizations in solid waste management services such as waste collection and recycling is very limited."
Solid Waste Composition and Greenhouse Gases Emissions Baseline Study in Lilongwe City, Malawi September 2016 written by LCC, EAD, UNDP , NCCP and MNREM 

International Conservation and Clean up Management started recycling collections at the beginning of 2017 and we are expanding. We are the only operator in town, educating why it is necessary to recycle and getting clients to clean and separate all recyclables for collection at a cost.  We are also working with the City Council Waste Transfer Stations (WTS's) to build the waste innovations with the communities. The WTS’s were specifically constructed in areas of little waste services and roads for the community to manage and develop their own waste structures. Malawi has a society full of practical skilled people. There are often struggles to find work in Lilongwe, especially in the more rural areas but people lacking money can be more resourceful by cleaning and reusing the endless supply of managed waste at these WTS's. Our ICCM workshops facilitate ideas and designs to come from the community to ensure ownership for their income generating projects. The designed devices will only be a success with a need. The economy here lies on the necessities of life and daily tasks to make money.

Poverty is one of the root causes of environmental degradation in Malawi and is at the core of the government's development agenda for the foreseeable future. Its alleviation is critical to natural resource conservation, protection and sustainable utilization. As ICCM we believe Malawi has plenty of natural resources including waste. Our research focuses on today's technology to develop appropriate innovations of need to release the pressure on the environment. Some designs we have built and are currently developing are:  

  1. Solar tubes to heat water naturally
  2. Household biogas digester so people can cook with biomass waste to reduce deforestation. 
  3. Recycled paper making machinery to make recycled paper readily available for Governement schools
  4. Plastic formations of all types to our own equipment rather than more expensive imports
  5. Using tin cans to make affordable roofing tiles

ICCM are scaling up sustainably working alongside Government, City Council and NGO's to extend environmental knowledge and create holistic waste management systems within each area. There are many types of programs and pathways that we can lead. Each activity is designed to create awareness and income generating projects to ensure the waste management system is holistic to improve the livelihoods of the people in the economically deprived peri-urban and rural areas in Lilongwe.

For more information please check our website

Many tin cans are thrown away with these...
ICCM have designed bins using recycled materials  

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

ICCM changing the perception of waste in Malawi

"Solid waste sorting is critically low at all levels."
Solid Waste Composition and Greenhouse Gases Emissions Baseline Study in Lilongwe City, Malawi September 2016 written by Lilongwe City Council LCC, Environmental Affairs Department EAD, United Nations Development Program UNDP, National Climate Change Program NCCP and Ministry of Natural Resources Energy and Mining MNREM 

Waste, it builds up in the streams and in piles that are behind offices, unseen to the public. Waste in all types, mainly plastics and papers are used for good burning products to light fires for cooking, heat and light. The pollutants roam into the atmosphere to solve the ongoing problem.

Agriculture waste, biomass is also put into piles all across the central and southern region of rural Malawi and burnt to clear the fields before planting season. Burning these nutrients will turn Malawi into a desert and the effects are clearly seen as the basking sun burns the soils every year.

With 82% of Malawians living in the rural areas agriculture is one of the main economic activities. People all sew the fields by hand and depend on rains for good growing crops that they buy and sell for profit. Every planting season begins with people having to buy fertilizer at 16,000 to 18,000mkw ($22-25) a bag not knowing that the biomass they collect and burn from the fields can be made into good organic compost. With the average monthly salary ranging from 25,000mkw to 40,000mkw ($35-55) a month for lower paid jobs in the city centre of Lilongwe you can see the personal damage in the rural villages. Making compost for the fields is a tradition that has been lost, although north Malawi are continuing to make compost due to a higher level of education in that region.

Managing waste at JTI Family Day, Lilongwe Golf Club

 "The largest source of solid waste is biomass"
Solid Waste Composition and Greenhouse Gases Emissions Baseline Study in Lilongwe City, Malawi September 2016 written by LCC, EAD, UNDP , NCCP and MNREM 

So people are struggling in peri urban and rural areas around Lilongwe while the highest rate of waste has been proven to be biomass, full of nutritional value for the agriculture sector. I think it is simple to say we can use this waste to improve the lives of the communities and the main factor of succeeding is education. 

International Conservation and Clean up Management, ICCM is working to change the mindset of people to understand the envelope of the environment and how we can best work with the environment using all natural resources which includes waste.

Waste sorting structure at Mbinzi Primary School 
Environmental Week at Paramount School
 ICCM will empower people in communities to understand to keep all biomass that can be used to make good natural compost, or used as an energy source. Depending on the skills of the people, the location, the natural resources and waste available ICCM analyse all criteria to create efficient programs. We facilitate and give people ideas based on there own thoughts to ensure the income generating project are owned by the community.

Our team in ICCM are currently a group of volunteers, environmentalists and some graduates /students from Universities. We create a platform for continual research and to support ideas towards designing and constructing sufficient innovative devices. Our continual on the ground activities include recycling collections, capacity building workshops and events to support the ICCM team initiatives and resources for some government school cleanup, education and low tech waste innovation workshops.


I'd like to personally thank you all for your hard work, passion and commitment to expand our ICCM network and projects throughout Lilongwe, Malawi.

For more information please go to

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

When nature meets the mind in Malawi

Neverending Food Permaculture Discovery Centre
It is currently the middle of construction season. I am now diving face first into community builds focusing on developing the rural regions in Malawi. Development is very contradictory but I know and truly believe durable strong low technology earth buildings will create breathable stunning affordable homes. With this passion I am slowly sharing the knowledge, while designing and site managing with my team at Grassroots Eco-Build.  Using earth in construction is still very sensitive. I say this because it is the material used in villages where it gives a status of being economically deprived. Not only this, but there are other factors, like the cost, time, labour and quality of construction. The preparation time for fired bricks and rammed earth are very similar but fired bricks are faster and easier to build. Using earth also destroys the top layer of soil and effects the environment in a different way so this needs to be accounted for and designed into the space accordingly.

Rammed earth corner section

As we develop, the more builds we construct and therefore the more proof we have to show success. The more reports of cost, time, labour and quality of construction will bring detail to get more attention to this traditional technology that has been abandoned due to the culture of what development is. 

Glass bottle window at Neverending Food PDC
Neverending Food PDC interior
Persevering, I have now been connected to groups desperate to find alternative building solutions due to the lack of trees and natural resources left in extremely rural villages. In the last year Grassroots Eco-Build has trained 10 people from Chitedze village while constructing the Permaculture Discovery Centre at Neverending Food.

We have also been very fortunate to have partnered with World of Difference, a superb team from America who are supporting our environmental education program at Kapudzama Government School. Grassroots Eco-Build are constructing a girls hostel using natural materials and local skills while teaching many of the community about this appropriate technology. As we use earth for this community construction we have also designed and started the permaculture gardens to create efficiency in design and promote a sustainable livelihood. As the community have been fully involved in helping the volunteer group in so many activities including construction, painting existing school classrooms, renovating desks and just being such great light to the community I know they will be missed. Anything can be done with such positive energy and we are truly blessed to be a part of such a huge influence within the Kapudzama community. What a great introduction to such an incredible project.

Environmental education week; introducing all levels of the community to the project
Eston Mgala teaching the ingredients to make a good compost pile

Mapping exercise at Kapudzama giving students knowledge and ownership in design

Digging foundations; the start of  Kapudzama girls hostel
A fantastic leadership team missing our Billy Milimbo!
My 4 years in Malawi have boosted ideas and needs and truly shown me what a rich country Malawi could be with its natural resources and constant energy from the sun. I hope and pray to empower more so they can live smart lives knowing and understanding the riches around.


Flood response affordable home using tithonia; termite resistant indigenous plant

Last month was also very exciting, I have had 2 volunteers from Italy who have had an interesting time taking part and learning different skills in each building project being constructed at present. These include;
·         Glass bottle cutting with natural locally available materials to build the windows of the                        Permaculture Discovery Centre, Chitedze
·         Profiling the foundations of guest house at Ecoline Farm, 6 miles
·         Ramming earth walls, building a house at Landirani Office, Njewa
·         Designing and constructing the beginning of a flood reponse/ affordable home at Dali Pottery, 6          miles

Cutting glass bottles at Neverending food Permaculture Discovery Centre

While defining different techniques of natural construction I have also developed the importance of using waste as a resource.  Waste is mismanaged throughout Malawi and therefore also a natural resource. As more cost efficient design logistics were being planned I realized collections of recyclable waste would be very beneficial to our projects. With no system of waste management, myself and a team of Malawi volunteers started working together to research and understand the future needs for Lilongwe.

1 year on and I have a passionate team of Malawians taking the responsibility to conduct recycling collections, education programs and environmental talks. We have been working hand in hand with the City Council to encourage and build capacity in waste innovations. This has given further inspiration to target and train some skilled people from the community to design and construct appropriate waste innovations.We share and spread our technical knowledge to existing waste management groups.


Our projects now include events, to raise money for the formation, design & construction of new recycling hubs for ease of recyclable collections throughout Lilongwe Town. Many companies that benefit from our service reusing the paper and plastics provide resources and support for us to grow in which we are truly grateful. 

ICCM promoting our recycling initiatives at the Farmers Market, Lilongwe

 Our sustainable holistic approach using recycling collections to support our education workshops will expand and attract more activities that will be focused in rural communities looking at many other ways to manage waste to benefit the people, including bio-gas. The hands on approach and community participation using all interested key people already in existing structures will give a positive response. The ICCM team is very dedicated and our ethos promotes hard work to ensure we obtain money through recycling collection and the selling of items made out of waste to move forward rather than depending on funding which proves unsuccessful for many projects in Malawi due to the ignorance of continual support.

ICCM recently constructed our first recycling waste sorting structure at the Wildlife Centre in Lilongwe. This is designed and built with local materials and waste; bamboos grow throughout the grounds that are very sustainable and recyclables create suitable walling for the bins.


Completion of our first ICCM waste sorting structure; Lilongwe

My time in Malawi turned 4 years this month of August and has provided me with enough experience to understand the culture to bring about small amounts social of change. I am committed to promoting all types of design including natural construction and waste innovations. I have been privileged to meet such incredible people to create that international network while also giving me more inspiration to continue my path. There are always projects to be completed and people to support so please, if you can support a great cause...

African Vision Malawi; Private House constructed by trained earth builders from my past projects at Sams Village