Until we were given the task to come up with some ideas to commemorate World Environment Day on 5 June, we had not really thought about the issue of waste management in Malawi and how it differs with those systems we are used to in the UK. A discussion on our own experiences of environmental issues and waste management highlighted these differences and got us thinking about what we could try to do more here in Malawi to do our bit for the environment.

A Perspective from the UK volunteers

Coming over to Malawi from the UK, one of the first things that UK volunteers noticed was the severe lack of bins here in Malawi! We found ourselves squirrelling away our empty food packets until at our host home, we were told to put things down the pit latrine which came as a surprise to us!

Some rubbish examples of people not looking after their local environment (pun intended)

We realised how lucky we are to have such a strong infrastructure in place whereby we can recycle/re use almost everything we consume and thus do our bit for the environment. When we return to the UK we are all committed to thinking more about our waste and making sure we all recycle and reuse responsibly. And we will be talking about this in our Action at Home too.

What problems have we seen and what can we do to help?

One of our first plans of action was to create a makeshift waste box/bin for the COWLHA (Coalition of Women Living with HIV and AIDS in Malawi) office so there was a designated space to put all rubbish. This prevents the office and surrounding areas becoming littered and dirty which in turn prevents unwanted infestation. We also reminded the national volunteers not to throw rubbish out of the window and litter the streets because there are no street cleaners, it all just build up and spoils the natural beauty of the warm heart of Africa!

To widen the range of our impact with regards to environment, we incorporated waste management workshops into our school and support group visits. We want to show how passionate we are about keeping Malawi clean, which will hopefully inspire others to do the same!

We have plans to do lots more talks and give information with regard to the environment in our upcoming youth groups, support groups and schools to keep spreading these important messages.

A perspective from the Malawi volunteers

Malawi is a landlocked country where the majority of families are agricultural and rely heavily on farming and vegetation for a source of food and income. Here in Chikwawa, the land is fertile and we have the Shire River, which is a national landmark.

In school, we do learn about protecting the environment: we know about replacing trees when they have been cut down, choosing good places to plant crops (i.e. not along river banks to avoid them being washed away in the case of a flood or heavy rain) and composting food waste to use as fertilizer for our crops. We do have ‘RK Plastics’ in Blantyre, which is one of the few recycling plants in the country and it would be great to see more of these around the country, especially here in Chikwawa where we live.

What have I learned to help my environment in the future here in Malawi?

I see the UK Volunteers don’t throw rubbish on the floor; they use bins to put their rubbish in. I will try to encourage other friends and family to also use bins because many people still throw their rubbish anywhere without consideration for the environment. We already burn some of our rubbish so I will carry on doing that until there is a similar structure that there is in Blantyre (RK Plastics) to recycle and re-use materials.

Written by ICS Team COWLHA for Change