When Stalin Kasalika of Ndirande Township in Blantyre boarded a bus at Wenela Bus Station on his way to Lilongwe last month; it seemed like any ordinary day.
But in a flash, a young man on the same bus started bleeding on his right foot after a piece of glass was stuck in his flesh.
“There was a pool of blood on the bus floor as the young man wailed in pain. He had been hurt by a glass bottle that was obscured by maize leaves, disposed of by another passenger,” Kasalika says.
That changed the way Kasalika thinks about littering in cities. He says the country is encouraging lawlessness by not regulating waste disposal.
“It is surprising that almost all local buses do not have trash cans for passengers to dump their litter. Where can one throw litter in the absence of such facilities?” he queries.
Hundreds of public buses crisscross the country every day, running without regard to environmental safety.
Simon (not real name), a bus driver in Blantyre, squares the blame on the owners of the public service vehicles.
“We are only here to drive the vehicles. Whatever is needed for the buses to run are the concerns of the owners. We are obliged to carry fire extinguishers, for example, because there is enforcement by traffic police. If there was similar enforcement on waste baskets, I do not think bus owners would fail to comply,” he observes.
A lecturer in environmental studies at the University of Malawi ‘s Polytechnic in Blantyre, Save Kumwenda, says disposing of waste anyhow makes cities look unclean.
“Wastes such as plastics end up in the fields and lead to soil infertility. Organic wastes choke rivers and lead to water pollution. Wastes thrown in rivers blocks the river and leads to ponding which encourages breeding of mosquitoes,” he observes.
Kumwenda points at the country’s lack of strong legal instruments and enforcement mechanisms that can change the course of trends in waste disposal across the country.
“The problem is that we do not have specific regulations on waste management in vehicles, bus waiting stations, buses and trains. Of course, city councils may have some bye-laws that throwing waste anyhow is not allowed and attracts a fine if caught, but what about waste thrown outside the cities? Our regulations are not specific,” says Kumwenda.
He cites developed countries such as the United Kingdom (UK) and United States of America (USA) whose systems have also been adopted by some African countries where every passenger vehicle is required to have a waste bin for throwing in waste.
Kumwenda says apart from lack of clear regulations, there is no enforcement.
“Also the practice of citizens taking the responsibility of reporting those who litter is very low. People do not seem to care enough to report those that litter. Many times we see others throwing waste from bus or car windows, but we choose to remain silent because we know no one will support us,” he adds.
The country’s environmental policies derived from Malawi’s Constitution of (1995) Section 13 (d) provide for the need to care for the environment. Each city council also has its own by-laws on environmental management and protection.
Against such a wave of criticism on littering in buses, chairperson for Big Buses Association Yusuf Matumula admits they have not discussed bringing trash cans in buses.
“If this is to work out ,there is need to bring all stakeholders together, but blaming bus owners will not help. There is a need for civic education and introduction of relevant laws to support these efforts,” he observes.
While the National Environmental Action Plan (Neap) of 1994 and the National Environmental Policy to which Neap is based on were adopted in 1996—including the Environmental Management Act, the documents fall short of providing clear-cut solutions to the problem of waste disposal in the country.
To operationalise the Neap, government embarked on an Environmental Support Programme (ESP) to integrate environmental concerns into the socio-economic development of the country.
Director of Environmental Affairs Department in the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining, Taonga Mbale, admits flaws in the way waste management systems are administered in the country.
“In general, waste management is poorly managed. This is not encouraging and requires immediate interventions by all stakeholders, including the media and the general public,” she says.
However, Mbale says her department is working on it, although she concedes that the impact is slow to show in some areas.
“For example, currently, we are implementing a five-year project titled ‘Integrated Waste Management’ which is targeting the country’s four cities,” Mbale explains.
According to the Department of Environmental Affairs, some of the components of the project include procurement of waste segregation bins to promote recycling, awareness campaigns, improving waste management facilities and promotion of public private partnerships in waste management.
Kumwenda suggest that the country comes up with strong regulations and enforce them. n