Maun Waste Warriors: waging war against litter

MWW with Great Plains and Sankuyu Bushbucks

There’s no doubt that Botswana has a litter problem. Right across the length and breadth of the country, the streets of our cities, towns and villages are an eyesore littered with all manner of rubbish. Fly-tipping, also fairly common, is a cause for concern. 

But Maun residents have decided to pull together and stand up to wage war against litter. This has led to the formation of Maun Waste Warriors (MWW), a group of volunteers who are conscious of the big rubbish issue in their town. MWW seeks to raise awareness, change mindsets and maintain a clean Maun from bottom up, conversation by conversation.

MWW Project Manager, Kate Nelson, generously set aside some time to tell YourBotswana about the strides the foundation continues to make.


YB: Thanks so much for agreeing to an interview with YourBotswana – as long-standing fans of yours, it truly means the world. First of all, congratulations on such a fantastic initiative. Who is behind Maun Waste Warriors (MWW)?

Maun Waste Warriors is a passionate group of volunteers drawn from all areas of Maun and all sectors of the community. The committee mainly comprises energetic young Batswana, which gives us great hope for a brighter, cleaner future.

YB: It’s undoubtedly a very noble cause, what inspired it – how did the initiative come about?

Our founder, Oarabile Johannes, had been following a Facebook post complaining about littering and asking for passionate citizens to step forward to address the waste problem in our town. Oarabile was the first to take the initiative, and he quickly recruited other volunteers to join his cause.

YB: What is MWW’s main objective?

We wish to achieve a cleaner Maun for all by engaging with individuals, companies and the government. We want Maun to have a cohesive waste management strategy, including recycling of as many items as possible.

Left – MWW Ana and the dirty plot in New Town. Right – MWW with airport police

YB: How does it work? How often do you embark on your cleanup campaign?

Starting in June 2020, we have called upon volunteers to help us with a weekly 2-hour clean-up. The purpose of these clean-ups is to:

  • Engage and educate the community
  • Raise awareness of the waste issues facing us
  • Rehabilitate illegal dumpsites
  • Identify the most common types of waste so that we can create recycling opportunities
  • Separate and collect recyclable waste to be used in projects

We have successfully used loudspeakers to broadcast our message to communities and distribute black bin bags to encourage people to clean outside their own yards.

YB: Besides the core team, who else is involved and how do you mobilise and motivate people to get their hands dirty, so to speak?

Companies and organisations have all joined us as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility programmes and it is also a good team-building exercise for them. We have been pleased that councillors, senior representatives of the North-West District Council, the police and other NGOs such as the Red Cross have also joined us to do their part and understand the challenges first-hand. 

We have started a Facebook group which now has 1600 members since it was set up in June. This has proved a really useful way to get our message across and attract new volunteers. We publicly celebrate those who do their own clean-ups and I think that recognition is important.

YB: Brilliant! MWW seems to be gaining traction. What challenges do you face in your ‘war against waste’?

The nature of humans is that we tend to take the easy route in life. This means that for behaviours to change, we must make it easy for people to responsibly dispose of their waste. Those structures are not yet in place. 

Also, there is a misguided perception in the community that “littering provides employment”. This is wrong and the government has better things to spend its money on, especially now that it is trying to deal with a pandemic. 

As yet, waste management is not a concern for many people, but this is changing and we are happy to be part of the growing awareness.

MWW Oyster with loudspeaker

YB: Speaking of positives. Where do you feel you’re winning?

There are many positives. Already, we have seen huge enthusiasm from all parts of the community for what we are doing and have had comments from people on Facebook that Maun is already looking cleaner. 

People who have never participated in clean-ups before,  including children, are picking up litter for the first time. The government is listening, and we continue to engage. One of the highlights has been seeing crafters coming forward with creative ideas to turn trash into treasure through up-cycling. 

We have also been pleased to support recycling initiatives in Maun so that glass and aluminium cans are recycled in town rather than being shipped down to South Africa.

YB: Lovely to see that your efforts are paying dividends. You’ve mentioned the government listening. What government agencies have you leaned on and how’s that panned out?

We have had meetings with Department of Environmental Affairs, Waste Management Pollution Control, Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism. All these stakeholders have been highly supportive.

Corpse showing ingested plastic

YB: Have you reached out to the council? How has the Council responded to this?

We are forming relationships with the North-West District Council and Maun Administrative Authority and although it is early days, they support what we are trying to do. Working with them effectively is an important part of our ongoing strategy.

YB: You seek to get the government to allow you to formally engage communities via Kgotla meetings, VDCs, outreach programmes. Have you managed to secure this?

This is an area where we seek to make more progress as the VDCs are key in us achieving our aims. We were pleased that the Kgosi and VDC representatives helped pick up litter when we were in Moeti Ward.

YB: It’s heartwarming to see that you’re able to get the community leaders involved. Which private entities have you engaged and which ones have proven supportive?

We have identified that organisations and individuals have different resources to offer – either manpower, finance or skills. 

Currently, local tourism companies do not have much money, but they have been wonderful in bringing their large teams to assist with the cleanups. These include Mack Air, Great Plains Conservation and Chobe Holdings. 

Other companies have donated skills according to their business. For instance, Dusty Donkey Café provides muffins for the cleanup crew every week and Lecha Associates have helped us with legal advice to set up our foundation. We have received cash donations from guests of Culture Explorations Tours and Travel and Lodge Builders Botswana have kindly sponsored T-shirts.

YB: What companies have you managed to encourage to engage in Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives, especially those organisations who have historically been responsible for generating the most waste e.g. supermarkets, chain stores, fast food outlets, drink distributors, liquor stores and bars? 

We are currently in the process of registering our foundation and once this is complete, we will be reaching out to more companies to see how they can assist us through their Corporate Social Responsibility programmes.

YB: You strive to educate not only the citizens but also companies such as food producers, supermarkets and take-aways about taking responsibility for the waste they create. How have you fared in this area?

We have had some engagement with local supermarkets, but this is an area we can focus more on in the future.

YB: What success if any have you had with your objective of signing a Memorandum of Understanding with various entities?

We have an agreement in principle with authorities that they wish to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with us, but are just awaiting the registration of the foundation before we can complete this as we need to be a legal entity to enter into such contracts.

YB: A lot is riding on the foundation going through, so we’ll be keeping our fingers crossed for you. What do you do with all the rubbish collected?

Glass bottles are taken to Great Plains Conservation so that they can be recycled into bricks. Aluminium cans are being smelted crafted into beautiful benches by Ronnie Crous to raise money for a borehole to be installed at Polokong Day Care Centre for the elderly. 

Sadly, the rest of the rubbish is then taken to the official dumpsite in Maun. We aim to keep coming up with recycling solutions to minimise the amount of rubbish going into the landfill. Kitso Safaris have assisted with transporting the rubbish using their big truck.

YB: Still, it’s a good start! What in-house recycling initiatives have you been able to implement thus far? 

Aside from supporting the glass and aluminium can recycling done by others, we are launching our recycling of plastics through Ecobricks. An ecobrick is a 2-litre bottle that is stuffed full of plastics, making it strong enough to build with. This is a great way of keeping plastic out of the landfill and stopping it harming domestic animals and wildlife.

No special skills or tools are needed to make an ecobrick, it just requires some time and effort. In this way, we hope that every man, woman and child in Maun can help us to recycle some waste.

YB: That sounds like a great initiative – we truly hope it takes off. With the COVID pandemic raging, how has this affected your work?

In some ways, we have to be thankful for the pandemic because perhaps Maun Waste Warriors would never have come about if we were all continuing with business as usual. 

I think this is a good time to reflect on our relationship with Mother Nature and think about how we can enjoy healthier lives in a way that sustains our environment. With reduced working hours, people have had more time for litter picking. 

Increasing unemployment in Ngamiland due to the downturn in tourism means that there is an opportunity for people to create an income from waste through recycling and up-cycling. 

We are very mindful of the risk of infection, however, and keep to strict COVID-19 protocols during our clean-ups including wearing face masks and social distancing.

YB: To what areas of Maun does the cleanup campaign take you?

We started with areas along the river before the flood level came so high that this became impossible. 

Around the same time, we discovered some terrible illegal dumping sites in New Town and spent an 8-week programme tackling those and sensitising the community in that area to the issues around waste. 

From there, we moved to spending time in Moeti Ward and Boseja. Now that the river is dropping, it is clear that we will need to spend some more time back on the floodplains to clean up the terrible pollution that continues to affect our drinking water and grazing for livestock. We are happy to assist in any area providing that the community themselves are also involved in the cleanup. This means that we have also helped areas outside of Maun, such as Khwai Village.

YB: Do you see a change in community attitude where litter management is concerned?

Overall, we still have a long road ahead of us, but we believe we are making a difference conversation by conversation. What we are encouraged by is the enthusiasm shown by our growing number of members who clearly share our vision. We currently have 1600 followers on Facebook which is only 3% of the population in Maun. We look forward to seeing this grow over the next 12 months.

YB: We can only hope it catches on and your work starts to change attitudes. What does the future hold for MWW?

From a standing start, we believe that we have achieved a lot during the past four months. We are looking forward to the foundation being registered so that we can formally approach more companies to sponsor our ecobrick project so that we can sign agreements with other stakeholders. 

Our website is currently under development, thanks to assistance from Live Safaris, who continue to give us amazing assistance with marketing. They are also helping us launch newsletters to encourage individual and community action. We will continue to assist crafters who are up-cycling waste by marketing their products. 

Following the Rwandan model where all citizens clean up one Saturday morning a month, we would like to see if we can achieve such an initiative in Maun and in our dreams, perhaps one day the whole of Botswana can follow our example.

To support Maun Waste Warriors, please visit their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/256331398959319/

Or follow the link below to visit their website: https://thewastewarriorsmaun.wordpress.com

Email address: mwastewarriors@gmail.com

5 months ago

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