8.2  Waste reduction

At the top of the hierarchy is waste reduction. This is the best option because the most effective way to limit the health effects and environmental impacts of a waste is not to create waste in the first place. Making any new product requires materials and energy. Raw materials must be extracted from the Earth and processed, and the product must be manufactured, packaged and transported to wherever it will be sold. Each of these stages may produce solid waste as well as liquid wastes and air pollutants. If we can find ways of making a particular item whilst producing less waste in the process, this is one of the most effective ways to reduce pollution, save natural resources, protect the environment and save money. Industry has a major part to play in waste reduction. If more efficient manufacturing processes were adopted, greater quantities of products could be made without increasing the use of raw materials. Industry can also work to incorporate less material into its products – so for example, an item could be packaged using less cardboard than before.

Waste reduction is also important at household level. In Ethiopia a number of waste reduction initiatives have been put in place in big cities like Addis Ababa and Mekelle by informal organisations and private sector enterprises. These initiatives frequently involve several different stakeholder groups including urban Health Extension Workers (HEWs), civil society, private sector enterprises and organised women’s development groups. The local kebele administration and appropriate experts from the Woreda Health Office and Greenery and Beautification Office are also likely to be involved. The Ministry of Health has produced some teaching aids and promotional materials aimed at educating communities on how to reduce and minimise waste at household level. Educational campaigns can raise awareness of the individual economic incentives, and can also be used to reduce the stigma attached to working with waste.

Part of your role as an urban WASH worker may be to help educate householders, through home visits and at community gatherings, about better ways to manage their domestic waste. This can result in behavioural change among the community members and increase their active participation in waste reduction (and reuse) at the household level.

There are many possible ways of reducing the amount of waste produced at home that could be suggested to householders. These include educating and encouraging them to:

  • Buy products that use less packaging. Buying in bulk, for example, can reduce packaging and save money. Where households cannot afford to pay large sums of money up front, it may be possible for neighbours to club together and buy a large quantity of a basic foodstuff between them.
  • Make use of reusable rather than disposable items. For example, use refillable containers where possible; washable rather than disposable nappies; cotton handkerchiefs rather than paper tissues; rechargeable batteries and refillable ink pens.
  • Use their own shopping bags, preferably made of cloth or other recycled material rather than plastic bags.
  • Minimise food scraps or feed these scraps to animals, if appropriate.
  • Repair and maintain items such as clothing so that they last longer.

8.1  The waste hierarchy and the ‘3 Rs’

8.3  Waste reuse