01 Jun 2018 Story Chemicals & waste

In pictures: How Southern Africa manages its waste

Linda Godfrey

Dr. Linda Godfrey is the Principal Scientist and manager of South Africa’s Waste Research, Development and Innovation Roadmap Implementation Unit, which aims to improve the reduce the amount of waste the country generates while also creating new opportunities from the reuse, recycling and recovery of rubbish.

Godfrey also contributes to the Global Environment Outlook, UN Environment's flagship assessment of the state of the global environment. The report describes worldwide trends on topics such as air quality, climate change – and the state of waste management in developing countries.

Godfrey shared some of the photos in her collection, and spoke to us about the challenges of waste management in her part of the world. All photos are from her trips around Southern Africa.

Open burning of waste

"Waste management in developing countries is typically characterized by uncontrolled dumping of waste, often associated with open burning. This burning of waste contributes to greenhouse gases, particularly the burning of organic waste, which can make up more than 50 per cent of municipal solid waste."

waste pile

"In addition, fly-tipping or indiscriminate dumping of waste in open spaces in cities and towns is compounded by very low waste collection rates.

"This practice of 'waste management' has the potential to cause significant environmental, social and economic impacts, including the 'leakage' of wastes, such as plastic, into aquatic and marine ecosystems." 

waste pile

"Unfortunately, very little data on the cost of inaction exists for developing countries, including for Africa. Uncontrolled dumping of waste in urban spaces increases the risks of disease, urban flooding and environmental pollution."

Waste pickers

"Developing countries typically have a large, active informal waste sector that recover valuable resources from these dumpsites and from kerbside. This is driven by socio-economic challenges such as poverty and unemployment." 

Man with wheelbarrow

"The informal sector plays a valuable role in bridging the service-chain and the value-chain, providing a flow of secondary materials into the private sector as little to no cost to government or business."


"In most developing countries, more than 90 per cent of the waste generated goes to dumpsites and landfills. The socio-economic opportunities of these resources – viable polymer, fibre, metals, nutrients – are lost to the economy.

"Developing countries need to change the way they think about 'waste', rather as a resource. By so doing, they can unlock opportunities for job creation and enterprise development, and if done sustainably, at the same time address the current environmental and human health impacts caused by the mismanagement of waste."

Hazardous waste

"Most developing countries do not have systems in place for the management of household hazardous waste.  As a result, these hazardous waste streams are dumped, together with municipal solid waste, often in uncontrolled dumpsites, where people are at risk of exposure."

#BeatPlasticPollution is the theme of World Environment Day 2018.