WasteAid challenges


Be inspired for real-world team building activities, student recycling projects and green design challenges, and be part of something bigger.

There are certain waste management and recycling challenges in low-income countries that we don’t have answers to. Some materials can be recycled using expensive machinery – but that’s not practical everywhere.

This is your chance to contribute ideas for a cleaner, healthier and more equitable world. We are looking for ideas that can be replicated in villages, towns and cities around the world to help people in poverty create wealth from common waste materials.

The answer might already be out there and you can help share it with the world; or you could try to tackle a new challenge in your school, college, workshop or studio.

We are very happy to share our challenges and, if you can provide an answer, we will share it with communities that it can really benefit from your help. We will work with our partners across the world to try out your ideas, sharing our progress so that we can all continue to learn together.

If you would like to contribute your ideas please contact us.



Energy: Sustainable heat source

Many recycling processes require a source of heat. Options include firewood, charcoal, solar thermal, solar electric etc.

We are looking for an optimised and controllable way to heat material to 300C, for example to melt LDPE plastic. Good solutions will be environmentally-friendly (avoiding deforestation, air pollution etc.), relatively low-tech and low-cost.

Plastics: Synthetic hair (acrylic, polyester or polyvinyl chloride)

Hair salons create beautiful hair styles for men and women, often using hair extensions, weaves and wigs. Synthetic hair has a growing market all over the world, and in places without waste management it ends up dumped in the environment. Synthetic hair can be made from acrylic, polyester or polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which are non-recyclable and non-biodegradable plastics.

We are looking for good ideas of how this single-use plastic can be replaced, re-used or recycled.

Plastics: EPS (expanded polystyrene)

What useful products can be made from waste expanded polystyrene (EPS)?

This white foam-like plastic is used in packaging applications like the molded chunks around televisions and packing peanuts. It prevents products from being broken in transit and is the lightest packaging material available.

After use, it breaks easily into tiny pieces (often shaped like balls) and litters the environment, often being mistaken for food by wildlife.

Waste expanded polystyrene is available in varying amounts in most communities. We have heard of it being used for insulation; and for air pollution control (in place of activated carbon), though this would need further research. We are open to creative ideas and appropriate technologies for low-income countries.

Plastics: OPP (oriented polypropylene)

Flexible packaging plastic known as OPP and BOPP (oriented and biaxially oriented polypropylene) is a very shiny plastic, often perfectly clear or brightly coloured, and not stretchy at all. It is commonly used for packaging and presentation e.g. the outer packaging on cigarette boxes, greetings cards, pasta bags, confectionery and pastries.

OPP is a very common single-use plastic found all over the world, and among the least recycled.

We are looking for simple processes, appropriate technologies and applications suitable for low-income countries. Can you find a low-tech way to turn used OPP into something useful?

Plastics: PET (polyethylene tetraphthalate)

While PET (polyethylene tetraphthalate, used for drinks bottles) is technically 100% recyclable, much of it ends up as litter in the environment.

Why? Most uses for PET are in food and drink packaging. Using recycled PET in food and drink packaging is costly because the material needs to be clean enough to meet food-grade hygiene standards.

What else can recycled PET be used for?

  • Ecobricks are made by filling PET bottles with sand or flexible plastic, then used as building blocks.
  • PET can be melted and reformed but it tends to become very brittle.
  • Using expensive machinery, PET can be processed into polyester blankets and fleece jackets, but there are growing concerns about plastic microfibres escaping into the environment.

While we are campaigning for a reduction in single-use PET, we also acknowledge that communities today are struggling with the waste material. We are looking for ways that people in low-income countries can make use of PET and keep it out of dumpsites and the ocean. To be accessible, processes should be low-tech and low-cost (or free), using readily available tools and materials. The final product will ideally be something that can use fairly large quantities of PET.

Research: Climate change

Measuring the benefits of our impact: open dumping and burning of waste are sadly commonplace all over the world and are having a significant impact on climate change.

Dumped biodegradable waste releases methane, a very potent greenhouse gas, and open burning releases black soot and carbon dioxide, both of which are also major climate change culprits. Decent waste management and recycling prevents these emissions.

We are looking for some simple ways to express the benefits of waste management from a climate change perspective, for use in educational resources and campaigns.

Research: Benefits of community waste management

Help make a positive impact by contributing to our evidence base. At WasteAid we believe that communities are best placed to deal with their waste and take some benefit from it.

By reducing transport costs (environmental and financial), and keeping the value of the materials in the local economy, decentralised waste management can be a powerful engine for sustainable development.

Can you help us build the case for community-led waste management? This might include a focus on local economic opportunities, public health improvements, or the reduction of the social and environmental impacts of poor waste management.

Safety: Safe artisanal smelting of aluminium

A common process all over the world, tens of thousands of people make a living by smelting aluminium to make new products.

The process itself is polluting and produces dangerous fumes.

We are looking for ways that can improve the health and safety of workers during the smelting process. This could be a new or adjusted process, a tool or other piece of equipment.

Safety: Workshop ventilator / extractor fan

Waste management processes sometime release gases or smoke which can be harmful to people working with them. Exposure can be reduced by working in a well-ventilated area and using well-fitting good quality face masks.

Passive ventilation is better than none, but we would really like a design of an extractor fan or ventilator that sucks air up and out of the building, preferably without the need for electricity (although a small motor would be acceptable).

The design should be simple enough for any reasonably-experienced metal worker to fabricate, anywhere in the world.

Safety: Waste electrical and electronic equipment

Discarded equipment, such as phones, laptops, fridges and TVs contain substances that can pose serious environmental and health risks.

Most e-waste is not properly managed, wasting valuable and scarce resources that could be of value to local economies.

What is the best way to manage these wastes to minimise their harm to the environment and recover the maximum value from the materials?

Are there best practices that WasteAid can be sharing with communities in other parts of the world?

Transport: Waste collection

Waste materials need to be transported from where they are generated to where they are processed.

Transport can be one of the most expensive parts of any waste management system, and we are keen to minimise this cost.

A bicycle is an obvious solution although it can be difficult to ride on the sand, and a pick-up truck costs a lot of money to run. We have seen some interesting designs for tricycles and tuk-tuks.

Can you come up with something practical? It needs to be easy to build, cheap to run, and preferably be able to collect up to three recyclable materials (in separate containers) at a time.

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