Home Environment New mobile app to help combat waste pollution in Uganda

New mobile app to help combat waste pollution in Uganda

Yo-Waste is currently partnering with 32 waste collection companies, and charges range from Ush20,000-30,000 per month, depending on the quantity of the garbage

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Yo-Waste is a mobile app that households and businesses can use to easily request for waste collection services. Photo: Courtesy
Yo-Waste is a mobile app that households and businesses can use to easily request for waste collection services. Photo: Courtesy

Over the years, Uganda’s major towns have consistently faced environmental challenges associated with waste management. Current systems cannot cope with the large volumes of waste generated every day due to ballooning urban populations and rapid industrialisation.

In Kampala, for instance, it’s estimated that about 1,500 tonnes of waste is generated every day, but only about 40-50 tonnes are collected, which leaves a lot of waste lying on the roadsides – subsequently blocking drainage systems and creating breeding grounds for diseases.

Waste collection and garbage management is one of the key services provided by the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), which contracts private companies to collect and manage waste. Still, these private companies can only mange to collect between 40-50 per cent of the waste generated in the city, according to official statistics.

Opportunities for innovative entrepreneurs

But while the challenges and barriers to sustainable waste management are significant, so are the opportunities for innovative entrepreneurs to make some money whilst managing waste pollution in the country’s urban centres.

One start-up has come in to fill that gap with a digital platform that is touted to help boost efficiency in waste collection and management. The first of its kind in the country, Yo-Waste is a mobile app that households and businesses can use to easily request for waste collection services and quickly be connected to a waste hauler closest to their community.

“We started developing this app in 2019 when we were still computer science students at Makerere University, but it’s this year that we have started marketing it aggressively,” said Martin Tumusiime, one of the directors of Yo-Waste. Mr Tumusiime developed the app together with colleagues Gideon Mpungu, Rogers Kibuule, Enock Lubowa and Brenda Namuli.

How it works

The developers of the app are targeting people who live in urban centres and own smartphones. Aside from garbage collection, the Yo-Waste app can also be used for other services, such as booking a taxi, or a boda boda – and even buying goods on e-commerce platforms.

Once a request for waste collection is submitted, haulers bid for the job and the lowest or successful bidder confirms the pick-up through the app. The hauler’s app provides routes to pick-up points and also allows them to enter user waste stream data per household, such as the quantity of the waste to be collected and disposal location.

Yo-Waste is currently partnering with 32 waste collection companies, and charges range from Ush20,000-30,000 per month, depending on the quantity of the garbage. The garbage is collected once every week, for the same monthly cost.

Once a request for waste collection is submitted, haulers bid for the job and the lowest or successful bidder confirms the pick-up through the app. Photo: Courtesy
Once a request for waste collection is submitted, haulers bid for the job and the lowest or successful bidder confirms the pick-up through the app. Photo: Courtesy

According to Mr Tumusiime, the hauler company’s app dashboard can help them monitor and track their fleets, fuel consumption rates, billing and invoices.

“Our app aims to organise the market, where a waste collection company can send out one truck to service over 50 customers in one location, hence reducing expenses on fuel and maximizing profit. It can also help City authorities to plan and implement new waste management strategies,” he says.

Today, the Yo-Waste app is serving at least 1,000 households in Kampala, but Mr Tumusiime and his team aim to increase that number to at least 100,000 households in the next three years. Kampala has an estimated 500,000 households.

“With those numbers, we shall be able to collect about a quarter of the total waste generated in Kampala,” he says.

Only one per cent of garbage is recycled

While much of the garbage collected by Yo-Waste is disposed of at different landfills, some of it is taken to waste recycling centres, which have recently mushroomed in Kampala. The biggest advantage of recycling is that it not only helps to cut down on landfill space, but also offers the informal sector an essential source of income.

“There are some of our customers who are environmentally conscious who sort their waste so that some of it can be taken for recycling. We partner with some companies that have recycling facilities that make a range of products from the waste we collect,” Mr Tumusiime says.

However, Mr Tumusiime says that his company’s biggest challenge is that the majority of their clients don’t sort their waste, which leaves recyclers with the problem of sorting it themselves. Because of this, he says, only about one per cent of the garbage collected in Kampala is recycled.

“Waste that is sorted, such as organic, plastic or paper costs a lesser collection fees whereas unsorted waste’s collection fees are slightly higher,” Mr Tumusiime says.

The Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (UWEC) in Entebbe recently set up the Waste Management Demonstration Unit (WMDU), which is primarily responsible for educating the public about how to tap into the business opportunities available in the nascent waste recycling industry.

The WMDU makes chairs, artificial flowers, flower vessels and shopping bags out of recycled plastic bottle tops, as well as animal monuments and shoes out of used car tyres. 

“We have recently embarked on establishing waste management units in different communities and schools around the country, and they are also making various products from plastic waste,” said Julius Mwesigye, the team leader of UWEC’s WMDU.

Mr Mwesigye said that his Unit is also now organising waste management competitions for students in various schools, such as essays and quizzes, to help create a young generation that’s mindful of the effects of improper disposal of waste.

NEMA’s plastic recycling law

In a similar plan aimed at boosting waste recycling in the country, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) is now requiring every business that is involved in manufacturing plastics to have a recycling plant, according to Tony Achidra, a senior public relations officer at the state-run agency. The main aim of this requirement, Mr Achidria says, is to ensure that plastics manufacturers are responsible for the entire lifespan of their products, including recycling and disposal.

A waste collection point in Jinja east of Ugandas capital Kampala. Photo by Gilbert Mwijuke
A waste collection point in Jinja, east of Uganda’s capital Kampala. Photo by Gilbert Mwijuke

“NEMA requires all those who are dealing in plastics to make recycling part of their business,” Mr Achidria told The EastAfrican. “We also require them to label their products because they are responsible for them to the end of their lifecycle. If we find plastic products with your label littering the streets, we hold you accountable because you are responsible for removing them from the public and taking them for recycling.”

This kind of regulation by NEMA seems to be paying off, at least in Kampala where people collecting used plastics is a common sight in every corner of the city. According to Mr Achidria, manufactures pay individuals to collect the used plastics and take them back to the factory for recycling.

NEMA places more emphasis on plastics and polythene bags because these cannot decompose and therefore present more risks for the environment.

Low pay discourages plastics collectors

However, used plastic collectors have always complained of meager pay by manufacturers who take advantage of financially desperate people. Jaja Mutalemwa, a used plastic collector in Jinja, Uganda’s second-largest city that is located about 80 kilometres east of Kampala, said that even though the factories promise to pay Ush700 per kilo, they usually deduct 40 per cent of the total amount for reasons only known to themselves.

“The Ush700 price is already small enough but factory owners still pay only 60 per cent of the money and yet we have to pay transportation costs ourselves. There is very little money to make now,” Mr Mutalemwa told The EastAfrican. With such exploitation many have been discouraged from collecting used plastics, which explains why many streets remain littered with plastic waste.

In a series of sweeping environmental regulations, NEMA recently proposed a controversial law that makes it mandatory for Ugandan motorists to have a dustbin in their vehicles or face a fine of Ush6 million, which has been criticised by Ugandans as ridiculous. 

Like most laws in Uganda, implementation of such a law would be problematic because of Ugandans’ legendary lack of respect for laws and the authorities’ reluctance to implement them.

For instance, even though there are laws in place to regulate the manufacture, import and export of polythene bags, these laws a hardly implemented. One such law is the one that banned single-use polythene bags – those that have less than 30 microns – but Mr Achidria admits that this has remained a big problem as it’s hard to gauge the size of a polythene bag with a naked eye.

The e-waste problem

But while NEMA can regulate manufactures of plastics, electronic waste, which comprises computers, radios, TV sets and mobile phones, among others, are mainly imported – and yet these are equally hazardous to the environment.

According to the Global E-waste Monitor Report 2020 by the United Nations, Uganda generated an estimated at 17,000 tonnes of e-waste in 2018, and that figure was projected to skyrocket to 45,000 tonnes per annum in the following years.

Perhaps this explains why, in 2021, NEMA partnered with the National Enterprise Corporation and the two organisations launched the National Electronic Waste Collection Centre to deal with electronic waste. E-waste contains hazardous components such as beryllium, mercury, cadmium and lead, which pose numerous environmental and health risks.

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