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The entrepreneur working to end Harare's garbage disposal woes

Deeply affected by a cholera outbreak in 2008, Odilo Linzi vowed to find a solution to waste management. Today, his company collects garbage throughout Harare. His story offers a lesson in fortitude.

By Virginia Zifesho, bird story agency

During the Zimbabwean cholera outbreak of 2008, Odilo Linzi lost four of his loved ones.

"The cholera outbreak spread to Budiriro where l lived. People drank water from contaminated sources and there were no proper waste management services during that time and in the end water born diseases arose. Unfortunately l lost my Uncle and 3 of my closest friends," said Linzi.

This outbreak took place between August 2008 and June 2009, resulting in the loss of over 4000 lives. It inspired Linzi, who was in his late teens at the time, to vow that he would contribute to finding a solution for waste management. It would be years before he could finally act.

Graduating with a degree in philosophy from the University of Zimbabwe, Linzi decided to start a waste management company in 2018.

"I've always had a strong passion for maintaining a clean environment. When I noticed the significant amount of unattended waste in Zimbabwe, I saw an opportunity to address the issue of cholera and dysentery caused by inadequate service delivery from the municipality," he said.

Funding his company with a family loan, an early service request came to his rescue.

"I started Oleans Waste Management Services by using my personal funds. Actually, I only had 5 (US) dollars , and I had to borrow 50 (US) dollars from a relative in order to register the company. I got my first client through marketing on Facebook; the lady saw the advert there and got interested in our services and contacted me," Linzi explained.

Only two years into running his business, the COVID-19 pandemic struck. He was forced to shut down and look for new premises.

"I began working in Budiriro 1, where we collected recyclables for sale in an open area. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, the City of Harare closed down our location. However, I was able to meet the director of Zimbabwe Sunshine Group, who connected me with our current location at the Zimbabwe Agricultural Society in Belvedere."

Running a business can be challenging, but for Linzi, a hearing disability has made it even more difficult. This presented a challenge, particularly when it came to communicating with clients.

"I lost my hearing when I was young, due to malaria. The injection that I was given to cure it affected my hearing. I used to wear hearing aids but realised they could not help me much. I mostly rely on reading and writing. Therefore, I had to hire an administrative assistant to help communicate with clients.

Currently, the company is involved in city-wide, door-to-door waste collection for households, cooperates and other diverse clientele base.

"We operate in most parts of Harare, such as Borrowdale, Mt Pleasant, Avondale, Belvedere, Warren Park, Hatfield, Highfield, Malborough, Msasa and Cranborne," said Linzi.

The company deals with an average of 15 tons of garbage from its monthly collection activities. In addition to this, the company also purchases and resells recyclables from informal waste pickers within and around Harare.

Once the waste is collected, the workers focus on separating recyclables - mainly plastic bottles, plastic papers, cans, and other materials - from non-recyclables, which are organic and then composted.

The recyclable plastics are then sold to plastic manufacturers for items such as buckets, cups, plates, and tanks. The company is also exploring the possibility of converting waste into biogas, which can be used as an energy source.

Lina Gwenzi, a resident of Avondale, said she grateful for Olean's services as the City of Harare has failed to collect garbage from her neighbourhood.

"Before we started using Oleans, we encountered many challenges due to the city council's failure to collect garbage. This resulted in potential dangers for children who could rummage through the piled bins and individuals who could dispose of waste in illegal areas. However, thanks to Oleans, we now receive weekly garbage collection services, resulting in clean environments. Additionally, we no longer face the risk of disease outbreaks such as cholera and malaria," she said.

Batsirai Sibanda, the officer in charge of environmental education and publicity at the Environmental Management Agency (EMA), has recognised the significance of the work being carried out by Linzi and other waste companies in Harare.

"As EMA, we value the efforts made by those in the recycling sector, waste is now being seen as a resource, and many are making a living from collecting recycling materials. Overall this has reduced the amount of waste in the environment, which aligns with our vision of a clean, safe and healthy environment.

The agency is in the process of identifying incentives that we can give to those in the recycling sector and those who need assistance starting up their waste enterprises," she said.

Linzi has encountered numerous challenges while operating the waste management business, making it far from smooth sailing.

"One of the biggest challenges I face in this business is the lack of equipment, especially reliable transportation. When I started, I had to rely on hiring other people's vehicles, which proved unreliable and caused me to lose some customers. I then agreed with someone who owns a vehicle, which has been more dependable for us. However, this arrangement has challenges since we are not making as much profit.

I am currently seeking donations to purchase a bigger truck and even offer shares to potential investors. Our goal is to have our vehicle and a spacious facility that can handle all aspects of waste collection, segregation, and composting," said Linzi.

"Staff turnover is a significant concern. Waste management is not a field that many people aspire to work in, which results in some of the staff only staying for 2 to 3 months," he added.

However, his current staff are grateful for the opportunity to work at Oleans. The company serves as an employment platform for the youth, women, and individuals with disabilities and has created over 100 jobs directly and indirectly through informal waste pickers and middlemen in the recyclables market.

"Being unemployed can force one to do things that are bad. For me, I took drugs because I wanted to forget the pain and stress of not having a job. I had a group of boys that I chilled with, and nothing meaningful came out of that group. When this employment opportunity came around, I took it and left that life behind," said a 22-year-old staff (name withheld).

Kudzai Chiyangwa, the company's administration assistant and a social worker by profession, said the opportunity to work with Linzi came after she had lost hope finding a job. It also opened her eyes to other ways to help the community.

"it is hard to find social work jobs in Zimbabwe because there are few NGOs, so I've been working with Oleans since last year, and it made me see another side of waste management which other social workers are not aware of; I am really grateful of this opportunity," she said.

"The opportunity to work with Oleans came when I needed it most, especially as an accounts student who needed practical experience about accounting. It also gave me an insight into the struggles and also challenges that SMEs face in the industry. I use my salary to cater for my school fees and day-to-day needs, and l have also realised that l have relieved my guardians from pressure," said 23-year-old Junior Hokonya, the company's accountant.

Linzi's five-year plan involves expanding his company both within Zimbabwe and beyond. Additionally, he aims to establish a fully operational recycling centre to promote the adoption of a circular economy in Zimbabwe.

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