I was privileged to attend the 2015 ISWA conference held in Antwerp, Belgium from September 7th to 9th 2015. The theme of the summit was making the most of our resources and waste. It was a fantastic 3 days that exposed me to the wealth of opportunities in the solid waste sector.
At the summit, I learned from people like Phillip Heylen; Antwerp’s Vice Mayor for Culture, Economy and City Maintenance, Dr.Oyun Sanjaasuren; First President of the United Nations Environment Assembly, David Newman, the ISWA President and Dambisa Moyo; world renowned economist among many others.
Phillip Heylen talked about Antwerp’s approach to waste management as a form of urban mining. In Antwerp, waste is a resource. 71% of waste is pre-sorted at home and collected separately while 27% goes to incinerators and only 1% to landfills. In all, 1,000 people are employed in managing the 300,000 tons of waste generated by Antwerp annually. From tires to used oil and cardboard to dead animals, every type of waste is fastidiously collected and utilized and there is no waste. After all “it’s a waste to waste your waste”.
Dambisa Moyo spoke about why the problem of waste management is not prioritized worldwide. Over 1 billion people struggle to dispose of their waste around the world. These people deal daily with pollution, disease and lack of productivity due to unmanaged waste. The problem of waste management should be at the forefront; instead it is hardly prioritized and usually approached as an afterthought. Dambisa spoke about how poor waste management in developing countries enables richer more developed countries to dump their waste. She also management to economic development. Her quote “In Africa, its hard to talk to someone about the importance of a green growth agenda when people are trying to eke out a living” stuck with me and strongly supported the work we do at Wecyclers which is to provide low-income families with value from their waste.
I participated in a panel organized by the ISWA Young Professionals Group (YPG) with people like Phillip Heylen; the vice mayor of Antwerp, Antonis Mavropoulos; CEO of D-WASTE and Anja Cheriakova; CEO Bin Bang. I shared the Wecyclers story and encouraged others to join us in the waste movement.
Lessons for Africa and the World:
- We need to prioritize waste management and view waste as a resource. Nothing should be wasted. The days of
landfilling and indiscriminate dumping must be numbered;
- The waste management sector should be viewed as a strategic sector for economic development. Antwerp employs 1,000 people to manage 300,000 tons of waste produced annually. This means that the waste sector can easily employ at least 20,000 people in cities like Lagos. When mechanization is factored in, the amount of jobs created could easily be in the hundreds of thousands;
- Entrepreneurship in the waste sector should be encouraged;
- Strong policies and regulations promoting source separation of waste should be devised;
- Communication is key, everyone should know what waste management and recycling is and should be encouraged to do their part toward a clean and healthy environment.
I was struck by the big names that came to speak about their passion for waste management. Royalty, ministers, mayors and CEOs of large corporations all displayed how seriously cities like Antwerp and Europe as a
whole approach waste management. The conference was a great opportunity for me to learn about best practices in waste management and to network with other waste management practitioners. I was fortunate to meet people like Mrs. Margaret Dara Oshodi; the CEO of D Nigeria Limited, a member of the ISWA working group and a foremost player in the Lagos waste management sector.
I capped off the event by participating in the closing session along with other young players in the waste sector. We shared our impressions of the conference and gave participants some words of advice as they went back into the world.