Gambia has recently unveiled its first recycling school. It was reported back in August by a local paper, then it was picked up by The Guardian newspaper. Recycling Innovation Centre is the name of this groundbreaking school, funded by the EU and actively supported by both British charity WasteAid UK and local association Women’s Initiative. It’s the first ever project dedicated to waste processing techniques in relation to the technology and raw materials actually available on site and the people who could concretely and autonomously carry out the work.

The Centre’s objective is to train local women, providing them with an opportunity to support themselves through waste processing and to also learn how to to pass their knowledge on to other people. The basic ideas on which the Centre lays its foundations on is that waste could represent an important mean of support and teaching how to manage it – crucial to reduce the damage open air waste dumps are causing to both the public health and the environment – will eventually lead to an improvement in the conditions of poor people living in low-income countries. In many African countries waste management is left in the hands of the single individuals, there are no waste collection and disposal programmes in place, therefore the rubbish usually ends up either piled up on the roadside or burned in backyards, as people are unaware of the health risks posed by this deleterious practice and its consequences on the environment. And while plastic and other toxic materials are being carelessly burned, waste keeps accumulating. According to the data provided by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the amount of waste in Africa’s and Asia’s poorest cities will double by 2030 – and we are talking huge volumes.

For this reason, waste management is a key issue in the development of many low-income countries and in the achievement of most of the objectives set by the ONU’s Sustainable Development Goals programme, whose deadline is set for 2030. Managing waste means treating it like a resource, it means turning rubbish into wealth. In the Western world we have come to learn that it’s not an oxymoron: recycling is now part of everyday life in most European countries, but we shouldn’t take it for granted. In Gambia women are learning to turn organic waste into fuel and small dark bricks are slowly taking the place of fossil fuel and wood, and plastic waste is turning into floor tiles. One of these ladies was explaining how important it is for her to learn how to give waste a new life, as she was never able to study or go to school: “I am going to teach this to my kids and maybe they will lead a better life than I did”. School unfortunately is often a male prerogative and this initiative – taking place in one of Africa’s poorest countries, sandwiched by Senegal into a strip of land with a limited access to the Atlantic Ocean – is a seed of change, the seed for a better life sown in a wasteland by hopeful Gambian women.