Litter in Zimbabwe has become part and parcel of people’s daily lives. Zimbabweans seem to accept the ubiquitous situation as normal. Various organisations and corporates have responded to the litter problem by doing clean-ups, but the question is: are they actually the solution?
As an act of corporate social responsibility, some businesses have embarked on cleanup campaigns in particular areas with varying degrees of visibility through branding. In Harare, Mbare has become a perennial litter hotspot with the City of Harare recently initiating a cleanup drive to eliminate litter in the suburb by this month. Clean-ups are regularly done in Mbare but after the exercise the litter starts to build up again. Clean-ups that are done without the involvement of residents and communities in the area last for a day or so as the residents simply fold their hands and appreciate that act of benevolence. Then they litter the area again and wait for another clean-up to happen – a merry go round situation.
Experience from countries such as Rwanda, which boasts of clean cities like Kigali, has shown that clean-up campaigns done without community involvement are not the solution to litter woes. The solution lies in people changing their mindsets about the habit of littering. Focus should be on educating people and instilling a sense of environmental stewardship.
Organisations like Environment Africa (EA) have been working hard to educate the public about good environmental practices in which it is everyone’s collective responsibility to take care of the environment. EA has shifted its campaign from clean-ups to vigorous environmental education drives by advocating for the concept of waste separation at source and recycling.
If energies are centred on educating people, it is possible to craft a permanent solution to the litter woes in Harare and beyond. Alongside this education drive there is need for local authorities to deliver essential waste management services.
Sustainable solutions are the only way to ensure zero litter in Zimbabwe with environmental education being one of the most fundamental forces behind a changed environmental mindset.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) recently identified environmental education as the key driver of empowerment. The UN under secretary general and UNEP executive director Achim Steiner said that, “Environmental Education is about knowledge and empowerment – the knowledge and power to understand, the knowledge and power to make connections.”
This means that if a person is environmentally educated, he is empowered to say no to litter as he’ll have a guilty conscience after committing such an environmental crime.
Clean-up exercises do lead to a demonstration of what our environment should look like, however they do not act as the solution to the litter problem.
An environmentally empowered person would carry his or her litter to the next available bin. If that is achieved, clean-ups would be an unnecessary luxury in Zimbabwe. The record shows that zero litter is an achievable milestone in Zimbabwe, what is needed is a changed mindset and a collective approach to the problem, with every citizen of the country taking Zimbabwe as his or her property not as a dumping site. The buck stops with all of us as Zimbabweans.
Musapindira Mlambo is an intern in the Business and Biodiversity Unit at Environment Africa.