WASTE disposal in Zimbabwe has over the years become a thorn in the flesh for local authorities, government and health institutions owing to a myriad of factors which range from lack of investment in waste disposal, lack of political will and misinformation around the effects of poor waste disposal.
By Michael Gwarisa
Healthcare waste has become a major menace and institutions especially those without incinerators fail to get rid of their waste, resulting is waste piling up in their backyards posing serious health threats. Health Care waste consists of infectious waste: waste contaminated with blood and other bodily fluids, cultures and stocks of infectious agents from laboratory work for example waste from autopsies and infected animals from laboratories, or waste from patients with infections for example swabs, bandages and disposable medical devices. Healthcare waste may also consist of sharp objects and harmful chemicals.
Open burning and incineration of health care wastes can, under some circumstances, result in the emission of dioxins, furans, and particulate matter. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), of the total amount of waste generated by health-care activities, about 85% is general, non-hazardous waste and the remaining 15% is considered hazardous material that may be infectious, toxic or radioactive.
Although incineration is deemed the fastest means of managing healthcare waste, the method can be costly and poses serious environmental health hazards due to the fumes and toxins emitted during combustion. According to environmental expects, disposing of waste through incineration exposes individuals to Dixons, which are highly toxic chemicals which tests have shown to cancers.
In line with global trends of maintaining a green and toxic free environment, a young Zimbabwean, Stuart Nyakatswawu a Laboratory Scientist and Director for WASTiNNOVA, a waste management company, has embarked on a mission to revolutionize health care waste management in a sustainable manner that is cheap and does not harm the environment.
In an interview with HealthTimes, Nyakatwawu said the organisation is the first in the country to venture into recycling and reusing health care waste for sustainable and economically beneficial purposes.
“WASTINOVA comes from waste innovation and what we do is manage healthcare waste and our vision is to simplify management of healthcare waste in Zimbabwe and Africa. The idea came out of the realisation that there wasn’t something being done in Zimbabwe in terms of management of waste in a green manner that does not harm the environment.
“At some point I read a story about a girl who saw a blood tube and thought it was lipstick and applied the blood onto her lips. There are some instances where dogs are seen dragging hospital waste into communities and in some instances those who do injectable drugs also scavenge hospital waste dumpsites searching for used syringes, this poses a huge health hazard within our communities,” said Nyakatwawu.
He added that at first, they thought of acquiring an incinerator but they figured it would only work against their vision of delivering and managing waste without polluting the environment.
“After seeing the massive waste housed at healthcare institutions, I then thought probably the bleeding could be on transportation of healthcare waste. I worked with a few guys and started to collect waste for Parirenyatwa incinerator and we realised we didn’t have enough capacity considering the amount of waste that they got.
“We also realised that many health institutions do not want to pay for healthcare waste disposal. We thought since there was no capacity in the country, why not buy our own incinerator but then we realised if we were going to put an incinerator, we were also going to charge high prices and this would automatically mean our costs for services would go up and Hospitals were not going to be able to pay for our services.”
He said buying an incinerator would also mean hospitals would continue to dump their waste in the way that they were doing and the only way to solve this was to find a suitable manner.
“So we wanted to solve this problem sustainably so we had to look at the whole chain from where the hospital waste is produced to where it is being incinerated and identify the costs gaps and what accumulates more costs and we realised that incineration is getting a lot of money that is where the highest cost price is.
“So what we then needed to do was to substitute incineration so that we reduce the costs, an incinerator uses 1 200 degrees to burn waste and for us to use 1 200 degrees we need a lot of lot of energy so we reduced that energy and reducing the energy meant we reduced the cost.
“So that is where the heart of the innovation is, to reduce the energy being used by incineration.We are now using green techniques, we are not the first ones to do it, in Nepal they have done it but in Zimbabwe we are the first and we studied the Nepal model and improved it.”
He added that the waste is their raw material that they use to make other products that can transform the fortunes of the nation should there be buy-in from government and other key stakeholders.
“Now we are using green methods to dispose medical waste, with these green methods we are not just going to produce waste as waste, for us the waste is our raw products that we use to make other things that can still come back into hospital to complete the circular motion.
“Once you produce your waste, we take it, we dispose it in the methods that we are using and then we produce Methane Gas that can be used in the hospital kitchens, we also produce bricks that can be used to build infrastructure in hospital and we produce organic fertilizer that can be used during farming.”
WastiNova’s production capacity for the by-products such as Methane gas production at the moment is still very low owing to a myriad of challenges chief among them being the lack of funding but plans to grow the venture into a continental multi-million dollar operation are in place.
Nyakatwawu added that many countries have already shown interest in their project and they have already made inroads in enagaing foreign companies and Non-Governmental Organisations in other African countries such as Kenya and Tanzania to see if the model can be sustainable elsewhere.
“We are now getting into the second stage which is called testing for scaling business, so we are still deciding whether we test to scale in Zimbabwe or we test to scale in Africa so we are still inbetween.
“Right now we are working with Tanzania and Kenya to see if the market is really good in those two countries so now we can use Zimbabwe as a sample then we later use Zimbabwe, Kenya and Tanzania before taking it throughout Africa,” he said.