Solid Waste Management for Youth Employment Realising the “Gold in waste” in Gulu City, Uganda
“Refuse what you do not need; reduce what you do need, reuse what you consume; recycle what you cannot refuse, reduce or reuse; and rot (compost) the rest”. Be a Johnson.
Solid waste management is an issue that matters to every single individual in the world. In developing countries, rapid urbanisation, coupled with population growth and rising standards of living has led to an enormous increase of solid urban waste. Cities in low-income countries generate on average between 300 and 600 grams of waste per person per day (Cotton et al., 1999). More than 90% of the waste in these countries is either dumped in watercourses and vacant land or burned close to residents, which poses significant risks to both human health and the environment such as spreading diseases, poisoning the land and water with dangerous chemicals, polluting the air and flooding from clogged drains (Rodić and Wilson, 2017).
Gulu City in Uganda is among seven former municipalities that became regional cities in July 2020. Another eight municipalities will receive city status next year. Gulu City with 146,858 inhabitants has the second highest population in Uganda after the capital Kampala (World Population Review 2016) —a number which is expected to grow with continuous urbanisation.
In Gulu City, the increasing health risks and environmental problems associated with solid waste are already evident and have been well known for some time. For instance, in 2010, the then Gulu Municipality was listed among 17 municipalities in Uganda to benefit from World Bank funding to construct a solid waste decomposing plant. The facility was meant to process over 70 tonnes of solid waste in a day. This plan, unfortunately, was not executed and waste management handling has remained a huge challenge to the Municipal authorities (Ssalongo, 2013). Therefore, since 2018, a series of regional round tables have been held to address the urgent need to tackle the effects of environmental problems in Gulu and the whole region. During these meetings, poor waste management has been identified as a key problem that is “eating up” the city.
However, although waste is a severe problem, it also offers opportunities. In many countries recycling and composting is a major business, and waste management has enormous potential for job creation. Innovative solutions to solve the problem of poor waste management can be derived from Community-based Participatory Action Research (CBPAR). This approach involves relevant stakeholders, including grassroots communities, in research on a problem identified by the community —in this case waste management— and appreciates their voices, traditions and active contributions to solving the problem (Hall, 2009). CBPAR goes through a continuous cycle of research, followed by action to bring about change and reflection or monitoring and evaluation.
It is against this background that in 2020 a team from academia (Gulu University, Institute of Peace and Strategic Studies and Gulu Centre for Community Based Participatory Action Research), civil society (CEED Uganda) and private sector (AfriGreen Sustain and Takataka Plastics) joined hands with youth from Gulu City to implement the ongoing project “Sustainable Solid Waste Management in Gulu City as an Opportunity for Youth Employment”. The project is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 InSPIRES research and innovation programme. The team has involved the youth in research about challenges and solutions to sustainable waste management in Gulu City with a view to creating job opportunities and become active participants in a newly established waste management innovation lab. This lab focuses on coming up with inventions and experimenting in the area of sustainable waste management and conceptualising business opportunities for the youth and other vulnerable sections of the population.
Key stakeholders from government, civil society, the private sector and development partners were part of the research planning and will discuss the research findings and innovations during multi-stakeholder meetings in the near future. These engagements will set the stage for subsequent actions by civil society and government on waste management and hopefully catalyse a strong and collaborative environmental movement in the northern region of Uganda and potentially beyond.
Cotton, A., Snel, M. & Ali, M. (1999). The Challenges ahead – solid waste management in the next millennium. Waterlines, 17(3), 1-5.
Hall, B. (2009). A river of life: learning and environmental social movements. Interface, 1(1), 46–78.
Johnston, B. (2013). Zero waste home. New York: Scribner.
Rodić, L., & Wilson, D. (2017). Resolving governance issues to achieve priority sustainable development goals related to solid waste management in developing countries. Sustainability, 9(3), 404.
Ssalongo, J.E. (2013, April 23) Gulu Solid Waste Management Project Stalls. Uganda Radio Network.
World Population Review (2016)