No matter how big the effort, mere collection of waste is unlikely to ever completely solve Zambia's waste problem. That is why government and other stakeholders are now shifting the focus toward reducing the actual production and use of waste products.
Zambia is lagging behind other African countries in this regard. While Rwanda had practically outlawed plastic bags, and South African supermarkets at least make people pay for them, Zambian till assistants still make a sport out of giving customers as many free plastic bags as possible, packing almost every item separately. But this is likely to come to an end now that parliament has approved a 10 percent tax on imported plastics, effective from January 2011.
"They will make their customers pay for bags, they have no choice. And then people will not want those bags any more. We are very happy with it," says Irene Lungu of the Environmental Council of Zambia.
The council has been pushing for this all along. It is now striving to take it a step further and get Zambia to embrace Extended Producer Responsibility. This system, originating in Sweden, means producers will be forced by law to reduce the use of waste materials, develop ways to recycle or process them, or at least help pay for the cost of disposal.
The industry providing the right incentives can go a long way. Recycling of metal is an example of this.
"Some years back you could find a lot of scrap metal between the waste lying around Lusaka," says Lungu. "But since steel processing plants have been opened here, you hardly find it any more. People can make money from collecting it, so they find it and bring it."
According to Lungu, the framework for legislation is already there in a lot of places. "Our regulations are good on paper, but implementation is still very weak."