A decade ago, the issue of managing waste in our communities seemed a straight forward affair. It entailed households depositing waste in pits and burning it. 

People also placed waste in dustbins to be collected, transported and disposed of in landfills by municipal workers. However, with population growth and the advent of urbanisation, the production of waste has increased exponentially.

A group of youths from Mbabane City, in Eswatini, has found an opportunity to turn trash to treasure. Known as the ‘Glow Girls’ this group of teenagers aged between nine to 19 years, are influencing positive change in the townships and are providing employment to their peers whilst addressing issues of poverty and crime.

Thanks to a R4 million partnership between the European Union and Municipal Council of Mbabane, there is a concerted move to divert the disposal of over 50% of waste in landfills through encouraging households and businesses to separate waste from source, recycling and composting. The partnership runs to 2021.

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Mbabane City, the capital of the tiny kingdom bordering South Africa and Mozambique, is well on course to be a reference point in the Southern African region on waste management.

“The City’s approach is informed by the global thrust for a paradigm shift to the manner people relate to waste. This is particularly urgent at this time when there is a global movement to respond proactively to the challenges of climate change,” says Gideon Mhlongo, CEO of Mbabane City Council.

“With support from the EU, we have embarked on a waste minimisation project focusing on recycling and composting. The priority focus is upscaling the City’s green practices to include formal communities and commercial business and herald technology-supported, sustainable best practice in waste management. The main target groups include unemployed women, the elderly, out of school youth, the indigent and all other marginalised and vulnerable groups.”

The project is located in eleven townships and has seen the participation of over 50 businesses in the food services sector. A composting site has been set up at the landfill in Mbabane where the Glow Girls and other community groups are turning waste into organic compost and selling it in 50kg bags.

“We are achieving a lot of success and the youths are generating money for themselves and their families. Their confidence levels are high, which is also having a positive effect on their schoolwork,” says Celiwe Maziya, the leader of the Glow Girls.

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Ellen Matsenjwa, project manager, says through the support of the EU, the Council is making headway in the stewardship of the environment and proving a model of sustainable development, not just Eswatini, but the whole Southern Africa region.

“We want the community to understand that waste is not ‘rubbish’ nor is it ‘trash’. We should all view it as a sustainable resource or raw material. This sector can give rise to new industries and factories that turn waste into valuable material, leading to growth in the recycling market and profit for both small- and large-scale businesses.”