The Way Forward for Recycling in Malawi

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As a relative newcomer to working in Africa, one of the things I find most surprising when I am in rural areas in Malawi is the omnipresence of trash. It’s a testament to the power of private sector distribution systems that in villages hundreds of kilometers from Malawi’s urban centers you can find chip bags on the ground. Waste management is a challenge that will only accelerate in densely populated Malawi as the population continues to grow and as, we hope, the population becomes wealthier and has more access to commercial goods.

An innovative local business has the potential to help improve the waste management system in Malawi by introducing recycling. The entrepreneur behind Dynamic Recycling Malawi, Ltd, Lucas Phekani, calls waste paper “gold.” He can’t get his hands on enough of it, and in fact sourcing enough waste paper is a challenge for the company to overcome as it grows. The company takes paper-based trash and processes it into egg trays, which it sells to most of the large Malawian egg businesses. The paper waste could also be used to manufacture other packaging goods and this is something Lucas has in mind for the future. The Business Innovation Facility, a project I work with here in Malawi, is pitching in to help Dynamic Recycling Malawi grow by writing a business plan to help attract investors, conducting market research to scope products and customers, and researching options for sourcing more waste paper. One idea the team is kicking around for sourcing more paper involves partnering with a local NGO to involve low-income women in the paper gathering as an income-generating scheme.

Local manufacturing benefits not just the economy but also the environment in a small, landlocked country like Malawi. Without Dynamic Recycling, egg producers would either have to import all of their egg boxes from South Africa (or from further a field) or invest in egg tray production themselves. Local production creates jobs right here in Malawi and saves on transport and associated fuel. A further benefit to utilising waste paper for recycling is that it would often otherwise be burned, emitting carbon dioxide and polluting the air. Even major financial institutions in Malawi lack the means to properly dispose of their paper waste, so they burn about 70% of it. If Dynamic Recycling Malawi can get access to this paper, they will be able to scale up production and reduce emissions. 

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Dynamic Recycling is not alone in seeing the value in trash. Plastics manufacturers in Malawi are also looking into recycling; in the long-term it may be less expensive to recycle local plastics than to import fresh plastic pellets from abroad. Carlsberg already runs an effective glass-recycling program with products including Coca-Cola, which may prove to be a helpful model.

Local authorities in Malawi who manage municipal waste do not have the funds to initiate a recycling campaign; they believe that this is a void the private sector can and will fill. And they may be right. If the companies that can benefit from recycling collaborate to build awareness about the value of trash, and establish a supply chain, companies like Dynamic Recycling and plastics manufacturers stand to benefit, as does the country’s fragile environment.

This post was originally published at the Practitioner Hub for the Business Innovation Facility

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