Helen and Mary: Keeping Zimbabwe clean, and the planet safe

Helen and Mary: Keeping Zimbabwe clean, and the planet safe

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In Zimbabwe, waste is discarded on the sides of roads throughout the country, with some motorists seen throwing rubbish out of their car windows. So what does effective waste management look like in a country with a litter problem? The solution may just come from the inspiring ideas of passionate Zimbabweans Helen Davidson and Mary Wazara.

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In the country’s capital city of Harare, problems at the Pomona rubbish dump are prime examples of the area’s problems with waste. Located near Harare’s Borrowdale suburb, the Pomona dump suffers from excessive amounts of rubbish, including recyclables from households that don’t recycle.

To make matters worse, there’s no rubbish collection at least one week of every month, leading to unsightly rubbish bags in the streets. Waste management needs to change.

Helen Davidson has worked in the local refuse collection service for years. Her incredible business focuses on recycling—both to help reduce what ends up in a landfill, and to encourage citizens to take charge of their own waste in order to create a cleaner environment for everyone.

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Helen offers a collection service for all recyclable and general goods, which people sort into the different coloured bags she provides. Plastic, cans, glass, and paper can all be recycled this way. Glass and cans are transported to South Africa for recycling, and plastic and paper is recycled right in Zimbabwe.

The coloured recycling bags that Helen provides are made by Mary Wazara in cooperation with her husband. They’re also made entirely from recycled plastic.

Like Helen, Mary has a passion for recycling, and especially educating local communities. She is also eager to empower women and give them and their families the chance of an income through green jobs.

She knows the needs of low-income communities and the struggles of life in Zimbabwe: “I grew up in Mabvuku and so I have had my own life struggles,” she says, “I am an example to women who have come out of poverty—that there is a way out and that there is no need for desperation.”

Mary travels the country, bringing together around 50 women in each community to discuss the importance of hygiene and protecting the environment. She also encourages these communities to collect and sort plastic at source.

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She buys all the collected plastic from the women and pays them depending on the quality of the plastic. This provides them with an income and encourages better waste management and respect for the environment. She encourages these communities to form their own groups, which she refers to as “Community Buy-back Centres.”

“The recycling of plastic can generate money for communities,” she says. “There is value in waste. I believe women and communities can care for the environment and make a living through recycling.”

Mary also works with children – some of whom head families – and pays them for their collected plastic. But she also asks them to show her their homework, so they’re encouraged to not drop out of school.

Through inspiring Zimbabweans both young and old to recycle and know the value of waste, Mary is also encouraging local women and students to thrive in their communities.

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