Mismanaged solid waste in Tanzania’s Mwanza city is polluting Lake Victoria

Critical for Mwanza to invest in source separation of waste, developing infrastructure for ensuring 100% collection coverage and efficient treatment

By Richa Singh
Published: Wednesday 22 February 2023
Overflowing waste at a collection centre in Mwanza city, Tanzania. Photo: CSE_

Mwanza, Tanzania’s second most populous city after Dar-es-Salaam, is experiencing fast population growth. The city is seeing both natural increase and migration from other parts of the country. As a result, solid waste generation is also increasing rapidly, adding to pollution in Lake Victoria. 

The city has a land area of 256.45 square kilometres, of which nearly 72 per cent is terrestrial land and 28 per cent is covered by water, primarily in Lake Victoria. It is also located on the southern shores of the lake. 

Most of the land area is urbanised, while the remaining areas consist of forested land, valleys, cultivated plains, grassy and undulating rocky hill areas, indicating its rich ecosystem. 

Read more: Managing water resources key for Tanzania’s sanitation fight

Solid waste management

The city council is providing waste collection services for 17 out of the total 18 wards, as well as collection from the 38 authorised collection points. The collection coverage is 75 per cent, claimed Mwanza city council officials. 

Over 350 tonnes of non-hazardous waste is generated from residential and commercial areas, with per capita waste generation ranging from 0.6-1 kilogramme per day. 

The practice of source separation of waste and formal sorting within Mwanza city council does not exist. However, their bye-law mandates the separation of waste into three fractions: Wet organic, plastics and paper. 

Like other African and Asian countries, recycling of dry waste is mostly done by the informal sector consisting of waste pickers and scrap dealers. Materials like paper, PET bottles, metals, gunny bags, etc, are sorted by the waste pickers and sold at the junk shops. 

It is interesting to note that glass bottles don’t hold much value in Mwanza due to the country’s limited number of glass recycling facilities. This needs to be addressed at the policy level to enable an environment for promoting glass recycling industries.

Informal scrap shop in Mwanza city. Photo: CSE

An informal scrap shop in Mwanza city. Photo: CSE

Rates of purchase of recyclable items at an informal scrap shop in Mwanza

Recyclable scrap Items

Price in Tanzanian shilling (TZS)

Price in USD

Scrap metals (mixed)

500 TZS/kg

0.21 USD/kg


Ranges between 100 – 300 TZS/kg

Ranges between 0.04 – 0.13 USD/kg

PET bottles

200 TZS/kg

0.086 USD/kg

HDPE cans

400 per can

0.17 USD per can

Aluminium metal 

1500 TZS/kg

0.64 USD/kg

Collection and transportation services in Mwanza council are provided by six Community-Based Organisations (CBOs), which are currently serving 11 wards. Two private companies provide services in the central business district (CBD) area, mostly comprising commercial and institutional establishments located in six wards. 

Notably, just one ward — Lwamhima — is currently not provided with any waste collection service due to the unwillingness of the residents to pay the waste collection fees.

The city’s only dumpsite receives waste from Mwanza city and Ilemela Municipal Council. About 150-200 tonnes are being received at the dumpsite every day. However, most of the waste remains uncollected or not received at the dumpsite. The city and municipal councils and community-based organisations operate collection points. 

Three bins for sorting solid waste (plastic, paper and organic waste) outside the office of Mwanza city council. Photo: CSE

Three bins for sorting solid waste (plastic, paper and organic waste) outside the office of Mwanza city council. Photo: CSE

The predominant method of waste disposal is through landfilling. The Buhongwa landfill, which is about 18 km from the city centre, covers an area of 33.81 hectares.

It is a scientifically constructed landfill site with a barrier layer, leachate and gas collection and treatment mechanisms. There is an operational weighing bridge to record the incoming waste at the site. 

Read more: Ground report: Tanzania’s sanitation battle is just half won

It is important to note that the landfill site is not operated scientifically. Waste is currently dumped haphazardly, with no leachate collection system, due to which the leachate flows into a natural wetland through which the Nyashishi River flows before meeting Lake Victoria. 

Overall, the entire facility was poorly managed due to a lack of staffing, equipment and technical capacity on the part of the city government staff responsible for managing the facility.

A major pollution source for Lake Victoria

A recently published report by New Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment identified Mwanza city as a hotspot, contributing a substantial pollution load in the form of industrial effluents, domestic sewage and dumping of solid waste.

It also recognised two rivers — the Mirongo and the Nyashishi — as the major water bodies carrying domestic and industrial pollution loads, respectively.

A 2015 study in Mwanza reported the presence of plastics in the gastrointestinal tracts of locally fished Nile perch (Lates niloticus) and Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus).

An analysis confirmed plastics in 20 per cent of the total fish sampled from each species. A variety of polymer types were identified, with likely sources being urban waste and consumer use.

Urban waste in Mwanza on the left; Nile tilapia and Nile perch purchased and studied. Photo: FJ Biginagwa, BS Mayoma, Y Shashoua, K Syberg and FR Khan

Urban waste in Mwanza on the left; Nile tilapia and Nile perch purchased and studied. Photo: FJ Biginagwa, BS Mayoma, Y Shashoua, K Syberg and FR Khan

Read more: CSE commits to strengthen solid waste management in Tanzania at 2nd pan-Africa workshop

Mwanza needs to take several steps to minimise the influx of pollution in Lake Victoria from mismanaged solid waste. It is critical for the city to invest in implementing source separation of waste and developing infrastructure for ensuring 100 per cent collection coverage and efficient treatment. 

The city needs to prepare a roadmap to gradually increase its recovery and treatment efficiency to divert the fractions that should not reach the sanitary landfill and drains.

Besides, there is enormous revenue potential if the waste is treated with appropriate technologies, which can partially or fully meet the city’s operational cost to provide waste management services to the citizens. 

This would be possible only if various fractions of waste, especially bio-degradable and non-biodegradable waste, were not mixed and segregated at the source mandatorily.

Collection service needs to be strengthened and provided to the entire city so that waste is not littered along the streets and drains and should not eventually find its way to Lake Victoria.   

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