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Supporting communities in Gambia with WasteAid

Authored by Sarahjane Widdowson, Global Waste Managementand Policy Lead at Root


Sarahjane, Root’s Global Waste Management and Policy Lead

As Root’s global waste management and policy lead, I believe that waste management is crucial for a sustainable future. One of the organisations I’ve been working with is WasteAid, an international waste management charity. I’ve been a trustee of WasteAid since 2015 and recently had the opportunity to visit The Gambia with the charity to see some of their work in action.

The Gambia is the smallest country in mainland Africa located on the Atlantic coast. Since 2015, WasteAid has been working on various waste management projects in The Gambia, from organics to plastic waste and circular economy initiatives.

During the rainy season, waste is washed out of thestreets into the river and straight out to the ocean,causing pollution

The State of Waste Management in The Gambia

The first thing that struck me when I left the airport was the amount of waste on the streets.

Although waste collection services are starting up in some cities, they’re still not accessible for many due to the cost. As a result, toxic burning and dumping of waste is a regular occurrence, and these practices lead to increased respiratory illnesses, insect-borne diseases, and diarrhoea.

During the rainy season, waste is washed out of the streets into the river and straight out to the ocean, causing pollution.

The Gambian Government banned the use of single-use plastic bags and water pouches in 2015 due to their impact on the environment. However, enforcement is difficult to resource, and their use is starting to creep back in.

There is an informal sector of waste pickers and local entrepreneurs who collect recyclable waste materials from dumpsites or around local communities, which are then sold and transported out of the country for reprocessing.

WasteAid’s Impact on Waste Management

WasteAid’s interventions are diverting significant amounts of waste from disposal and creating livelihood opportunities for vulnerable groups.

We’ve developed a Circular Economy Network in the Greater Banjul Area, which is improving the management of resources and waste, preventing pollution, and supporting innovation and livelihoods in a green economy. We’re also building capacity among government, entrepreneurs, and vulnerable communities, enabling resources to be kept in the loop to benefit the whole of society.

Two of the entrepreneurs WasteAid has been working with are focusing on plastic waste.

  • Plastics Recycling Gambia collects hard plastic from informal collection points, sorting, washing, and then grinding it down into plastic pellets to sell to local plastic manufacturers. One of these manufacturers is using this material to make drainage pipes.
  • African Swag Collection has produced a fashion range that reuses bubble wrap otherwise destined for landfill. They collect bubble wrap from trading outlets that are importing electrical equipment and transform it into shower caps and aprons for use in the hairdressing and culinary trade, as well as handbags and raincoats.

Looking Forward

There’s still a lot of work needed to prevent waste, especially around reuse and refill, and finding more solutions will significantly improve the local environment and the health of local people.

Producer responsibility also has a big role to play, and WasteAid is already working with several responsible packaging producers to support local communities in enhancing infrastructure, providing training, and identifying circular economy solutions.

If you’d like to learn more about how you can work with WasteAid to help solve the global waste crisis or donate, please visit the WasteAid website.