In the past three weeks I have been privileged to work with a highly energised team of folks in the ‘Keep Blantyre Clean and Green Campaign’. It has been one of the great and glorious experiences that are highly rewarding and life enriching.
Without any illusion, this regeneration campaign, just like many of the other volunteer public campaigns that I and my colleagues have been involved with, at national level, over the last 10 years or so, demanded dedication, commitment and sacrifice.
The outcome on the day of the launch that culminated with the highly sold out Mayor’s ball on the evening of November 1 2014, was well worth the sweat and sacrifice.
Being a part of the initiative has been yet another great window of opportunity for new learning. In the process of going around the city and meeting some important citizens to bankroll the key tasks in this campaign, I have come across a treasure of information about waste and the silver lining to dirt. What I would like to call waste mining.
There is money to be made from waste, except that in Malawi we suffer the same old problem of failing to profit from problems. As most enterprising minds like Richard Branson of the Virgin Galactic has often put it, “there are always great opportunities lurking behind any challenge or problem. Genius is the ability to not focus too long bemoaning about the problem but going about examining how to profit from the challenge.”
The litany of opportunities to making money from waste in Malawi is long; suffice to mention a few: for starters; I have learnt that almost every item of waste can either be re-used or be converted into an economically valuable activity. That the waste that cannot be reused or recycled, can be used in generating electricity. That would go a long way in eliminating the challenges of load shedding in the country.
Then there are the obvious things such as plastic bags, used plastic beer crates etc. These are already being recycled by one company called E J Polymers into black plastic that gets used in a lot of applications such as waste collection bags in hospitals, in the construction industry when laying foundations, roofing enhancements in the grass thatch houses in the rural areas and in the fishing industry like in my home in Cape Maclear, Malembo and Nsaka in Mangochi.
Then there is the obvious Paper Making Trust (Pamet) that has been recycling pulp based paper into a multitude of applications.
There are plans, I have come to learn on this journey, that shortly glass, especially from beer bottles, will be taken to its original state of sand and be used into the construction industry as concrete as well as in sand paper.
Organic waste has a lot of opportunities for application in the field of manure and fertiliser production to the extent that if we Malawians had ingenuity we could greatly eliminate the horrifying burden to our fiscal budget that is manifested in the name of budgetary allocations for Fertiliser Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp).
If we had ingenuity to look at waste as a “gold” mine we would have had a vibrant industry at the back of Fisp. This would result in channelling all those billions of resources into our own factories from our own waste, run and owned by our own people, employing and enriching our own sons and daughters. That is how nations and industries are created and become great. That is how China, Brazil, South Korea and India have become industrial giants today; and how Japan, America and Europe before them became industrial giants.
If Malawi had the appetite to be creative and innovate as suggested above then there would not be the over burdening and excessive pressure on the kwacha that the huge demand for forex to import chemical fertilisers has always created resulting in wreaking havoc on the fundamentals of the feeble, fickle and sickly economy; leading to the current untold misery of poverty, destitution and the attendant potential social disgruntlement by the populace.
Perhaps what can be said is that Malawi finds itself in this predicament because the appetite by most of its citizens’ failure to appreciate that sustainable and enduring solutions are hard and intellectually demanding, not the easy quick fixes that the political class has peddled to the masses in the quest to get political mileage.
Malawians have failed to heed what US President JF Kennedy said when he articulated America’s ambitions to land men on the moon, “that we chose to do it not because it is easy but rather because it is hard.”
It is time Malawi embraced doing the hard things.