The urban population in Africa is steadily increasing.
It is currently about 490 million, accounting for 41% of the total population, and is predicted to treble by 2050.
Volume of waste is also increasing in accordance with the continuous growth of cities.
Waste is often strewn on the street in Africa, or scattered around overflowing waste collection containers. Areas not covered by public services such as back alleys and vacant land are also common sites for the dumping of illegal waste. These conditions can also lead to a deterioration in the local security situation by permitting the behaviour predicted by the so-called Broken Windows Theory.
Organic waste, the main component of waste in Africa, attracts insects and pests. In regions with high temperatures, waste tends to promote the breeding of flies and gastrointestinal pathogens that can cause the spread of diseases such as gastroenteritis, hepatitis, and cholera. In addition, accumulated water in plastic waste can encourage the breeding of mosquitoes and lead to the spread of dengue and yellow fever.
Even collected waste is improperly disposed of in many cities. At least 70% of waste is disposed of in open dump sites in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Open dumping causes many problems. Apart from the abovementioned problems of insects and pests, it also leads to the contamination of surface water and groundwater from leachate, offensive odours, and fires. Open dumping sites also release methane into the atmosphere without any controls, which contributes to climate change via the strong greenhouse effect of the gas. Worse still, mountains of waste have collapsed in numerous cities in recent years, leading to the loss of many lives.
While organics account for much of the waste composition in Africa, lifestyle changes brought about by economic growth are pushing up the amount of waste requiring special reatment for disposal such as plastics, electronic products, and tyres. Large volumes of used electrical and electronic products are imported from developed countries, many of which no longer work.
People in numerous African countries lack the adequate techniques and legal systems in place for the proper disposal of wastes requiring special treatment. Improper disposal and treatment methods lead to environmental contamination and health problems linked to toxic substances such as lead and dioxin.
Developed countries have gradually solved their waste issues through measures focused on public health improvement, environmental pollution control, and the creation of societies that recycle over many years. Countries in Africa, however, are being forced to face and respond to these issues all at once over a short period of time. Beyond the requisite technologies, these countries require social change with the development of legal systems and improvements in institutional capacity and civil consciousness to respond to the problems of waste. These changes can take time. These waste issues are occurring at a speed that overtakes the process of social change.
Waste problems are already evident and serious in Africa. The amount of waste is expected to continuously increase. Addressing these problems now will be crucial for a sustainable future.