Malawi faces significant challenges in dealing with rising levels of waste, despite producing less waste than wealthier nations. In 2019, Lilongwe, the capital city of the country was producing approximately 250 metric tonnes of waste per day and the commercial city of Blantyre was producing 300 tonnes of waste per day, respectively (Hastings M’bawa, 2019). Disappointingly, the current waste collection services available in Malawi can handle only a small percentage of this waste at around 30%. Consequently, major urban centres like Lilongwe and Blantyre face a growing problem of accumulated and unprocessed waste. Worryingly, a huge proportion of this waste is in the form of single use plastics for which recycling services are not available.
Uncollected waste in Malawi is usually dealt with in one of two ways, it is either placed in a rubbish pit or wantonly thrown at any other undesignated area. It must be noted that in Malawi, it is a common practice for most of the households to have a large rubbish pit outside their homes where waste is habitually dumped. When the rubbish pit fills up, the waste is burnt of covered up with soil and another area is identified for a new rubbish pit. For the waste that is discarded at undesignated places, the location is strategically identified so that during rainy season, the waste is washed away with rain water and the dumping continues. The waste includes plastics, toxic and non-toxic materials which have different and numerous negative impacts on the environment, plants, animals and humans. It is also very common to find waste being deposited directly in rivers, streams, road sides or on the streets.
There is growing recognition of the hazards posed by uncollected waste, particularly that related to single use plastics. A number of civil society organisations are campaigning against the improper disposal of plastics using a number of tactics. We were able to detail these interventions during a research project undertaken by a research team drawn from the Catholic University of Malawi and the University of Bayreuth between January and July 2021.