Upcycle Africa is an organization focused on re-orienting and re-educating African communities towards a greener future. Through the process of upcycling, a community can reduce its waste accumulation by transforming useless products, materials or energy into something functional. Sustainable development is a well-known concept that involves achieving economic growth in the long term. Upcycle Africa is proof that the goals of a greener industry and profitable entrepreneurship are not mutually exclusive.
Waste Crisis in Africa
Waste management in Africa has been a problem since the rise of industrialization and urbanization. The uncontrolled accumulation of waste in both urban and rural areas continues to skyrocket as the population continues to increase. The African population is the fastest growing among all continents, with an annual growth rate of roughly 3.5%. The growing number of people puts more pressure on waste management efforts because of inadequate infrastructure across a large portion of the continent.
Moreover, Asian countries such as China have banned plastic dumping in their own countries so Africa has become the new destination for waste trade. Countries like Kenya and Senegal received 1 billion tons of waste when China banned waste trading. The main problem with waste in Africa is that waste collection and proper treatment are often insufficient – more than half the waste generated is not collected. Africa has 19 of the 50 largest uncontrolled dumpsites where waste is regularly burned and poorly manipulated. People living nearby have to dig through the waste to make a living and are living with constant exposure to dangerous health risks. Prolonged exposure can result in the development of diseases such as asthma, tuberculosis and diabetes.
Sustainable Development is the Answer
Eradicating poverty sustainably has become a priority even though traditionally, the idea was that the least developed countries (LDCs) could not afford to develop their economies without polluting. Over the years, a shift in mentality has led to the acceptance of greener economies and practices. Many have come to the realization that there will be no future economy in case of mismanagement and overuse of the environment and its resources. This is especially true in Africa, where 15% of the continent’s GDP is agriculturally based. Hence, the livelihood of millions of people depends on the preservation of the African natural environment. Waste management is essential for sustainable development; it not only leads to the collection of waste but also prevents further damage to the environment.
Upcycle Africa in Action
Upcycle Africa’s goal is to transform waste-related problems in Africa into employment opportunities. To achieve this it focuses on three programs.
The first, Zero Waste Campaign, addresses the principal problem of waste accumulation in African countries – waste pollution. Upcycle Africa believes that to achieve more effective results, the emphasis should be on specific communities. Understanding how waste can be economically beneficial can be difficult, so improving education is one of the core objectives of the program.
The second program, Waste to Wealth, focuses on cleaning up spaces and encouraging the population to embrace these practices while rejecting the uncontrolled dumping of waste.
The third program, Business Development, is all about green entrepreneurship. A transition to a greener economy starts with initiatives that focus on providing sustainable products and services as well as greener production processes. Upcycling is the perfect way to start this transition, as it transforms a huge pollution problem into a source of job creation.
One of the most successful projects Upcycle Africa has undertaken is the building of houses with plastic bottles in Uganda. Uganda’s rapid population growth makes it difficult to ensure decent housing for everyone. Through this initiative, Upcycle Africa has managed to educate communities about the importance of protecting the environment while also creating something useful. The constructed houses are affordable and highly resistant to earthquakes. In 2021, Upcycle Africa also announced their partnership with Engineered Waste to Energy Solutions for the World (E.S.E.S), an organization committed to generating energy from waste.
Through these initiatives, Upcycle Africa is one step closer to transforming waste collection into an economically beneficial practice in LDCs.
– Carla Tomas
Photo: Wikimedia Commons