Cleaning up: The Yokohama experience

Walter Muchinguri Assistant News Editor
The country on Friday last week took part in the 10th National Environment Cleaning Day following the declaration of the day by President Mnangagwa in December last year.

The clean-up programme is nearing its first anniversary and very soon people will be evaluating how it has fared since its inception.

While the programme has largely been a success buoyed by massive response from Government departments, corporates, other organisations such as churches, and Zimbabweans in general across the country, there is need to start looking beyond the first year and building on the successes achieved.

President Mnangagwa has already indicated that the campaign will next year be moving to phase two of ensuring smartness everywhere, including in homes.

This is critical in ensuring that the programme does not remain a one-day event every month, but becomes a daily activity which is critical if the country is going to reap maximum rewards from it.

What is critical is for Government and responsible authorities to ensure a complete change in mindset towards the programme to achieve total buy-in.

Some of the cleanest cities in the world owe their success to the complete change in mindsets of their population.

In Yokohama, Japan, cleaning up has become a culture that cascades down to all ages and one hardly finds any litter on the ground.

This is because as citizens are going about their business, they are ever conscious of their surroundings.

If they come across litter on the streets, they pick it up, throw it into the backpacks or carrier bags and deposit it into several clearly labelled bins that are located at every corner.

This ensures that the litter is separated at source and it makes it easier for the city’s waste management companies to dispose of it.

Similarly, workers in the city start off their day by ensuring that they pick up all the litter within the proximity of their workplaces.

Yokohama city owes this success to the G30 policy that it implemented in 2003.

The programme was premised on the need to reduce the volume of waste generated by the city by 30 percent from the baseline level of 1,6 million tonnes in 2001.

The city managed to surpass the target easily after achieving a 42 percent decline to 0,9 percent by 2009.

The gist of the policy was to influence a paradigm shift in thinking among three main stakeholders — the citizens, industries and the local government.

The policy emphasised the separation of all waste through the 3Rs (Reduce, Recycle, Reuse) philosophy which was rolled out on a grand scale.

It was backed up with environmental education, as well as concrete steps, including increasing rigorous separation rules, quality checks and sanctions.

In terms of awareness for citizens, the policy targeted schools from kindergarden right up to university level through the facilitation of educational trips, to waste management companies for them to get an appreciation of how waste from the city is handled and why they need to separate waste and to observe the 3R philosophy in action.

I had the opportunity to witness the effectiveness and efficiency of the system during a visit to the Tateno Elementary School in the city last year.

At the school — a public facility — children are responsible for cleaning their classes and the school environs soon after lunch and before they go home.

The students, who also receive free lunch, are responsible for serving their own lunch and cleaning up the mess afterwards.

The cleaning-up process is unique in that the children have been trained to separate all their waste and disposing it in the appropriate bins.

Zimbabwe will do well if it takes a leaf from such programmes and tweak them to suit local conditions.

The road that the city of Yokohama has travelled is not a difficult one for Zimbabwe because the framework for some of the activities that are already being undertaken in that city have been in existence in this country for many years.

In the past, schoolchildren used to start and end the day by picking up litter around their schools and also sweeping their classrooms and their environs.

In addition, cleaning up was the most preferred punishment for errant students. Sadly, this culture has been dying slowly with the task now being relegated to grounds-men.

The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education and school authorities need to invigorate it to inculcate a sense of responsibility and ownership in the young.

In addition, the 3R philosophy is not new to Zimbabwe as it is being pushed through by the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) through an initiative running under the theme “Converting trash to cash”.

Under the initiative, EMA is advocating for the protection of the environment through sustainable management of waste by members of the community, which will result in them earning money from the trash.

It aims to bring out business opportunities in waste management so that different stakeholders can play a part in waste management and possibly drive corporates into investing in the recycling industry so as to redress the waste management challenge the country is facing.

Communities can form groups to harness the benefits of waste which vary from waste collection to recycling.

It emphasises on separation of waste at source into biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste, which ensures that it is not contaminated.

Econet, through its clean cities initiative, an “Uber type” Vaya App for urban waste collection, is already spearheading the separation of waste through granting concessions to people who separate their waste at source and penalising those that do not.

These are the types of carrot and stick approaches needed to ensure a clean Zimbabwe. The die has already been cast, what is needed is to continue scaling up the interventions.

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