Recycling perspective: Hannah’s journey towards a green community

Faced with the stark reality of waste management issues in Zimbabwe, Hannah chose action over resignation. From being stigmatised to spearheading a green enterprise, her story is a testament to the invincible spirit of youth.

Zimbabwe grapples with a severe waste problem, generating a staggering 1.65 million tonnes of waste annually. Shockingly, 90% of this waste is biodegradable or could be recycled, but it is carelessly dumped on the streets and open spaces. Discarded bottles, bags, straws, packaging, and other single use items are causing a plastic waste catastrophe. The dire consequences ripple through the environment, wildlife, water sources, and human health, while the country's underfunded local governments struggle to cope as they are underfunded. Large volumes of inadequately treated wastewater are also being discharged to the Marimba and Mukuvisi rivers, and to the Chivero and Manyame lakes, the Harare’s major sources of water. Poverty, gender inequality, and injustice exacerbate these challenges, as the country drowns in a tide of plastic waste.

Amidst this challenge, Hannah Hwapunga, a determined 24-year-old from Tynwald in Zimbabwe’s rural Harare, was increasingly concerned to see most residents around Tynwald disposing of their waste haphazardly, by burning it or dumping it on the roadsides, in open spaces, valleys, and drains. Her community was at risk of contracting respiratory diseases, especially women and children. She became committed to maintaining a clean and safe environment to the best of her abilities, amidst a wave of societal ridicule and stigma. As she picked up waste, she was looked down upon for being ‘dirty and unkempt’, even being urged by her husband to engage in 'cleaner' activism, but this did not deter her.

‘Most people find trash-picking a bad thing because there is a social stigma attached,’ she explained. Yet, she cast off that stigma and worked hard to take her cleaning initiative to the next level, visiting dumpsites around Harare and collecting waste for recycling.

With her determination to make a change, Hannah enrolled in an SNV training through the ‘Scaling Up Youth Employment’ initiative, a program that has motivated 20,000 young people since 2019 to come together and help in healing Zimbabwe’s environment.

With funding from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the Embassy of Sweden in Zimbabwe, the program aims to empower socially and economically underprivileged youth to bring about positive change in their community, and pave the way for a clean and green Zimbabwe while improving livelihoods, income opportunities and access to social services.

Through the Youth Employment and Entrepreneurship (YEE) approach, SNV trained young leaders and introduced them to opportunities for youth (self-) employment in selected economic sectors that had growth potential, were environmentally sound, and were gender-inclusive. Theoretical training was combined with practical on-the-job exercises, and young women and men received the necessary skill and knowledge training and were connected to commercial and financial markets.

Today, Hannah’s husband assists her in running her own recycling warehouse in Tynwald. Utilising her YEE training skills, she conducted a scenario mapping exercise and developed a sound business plan that helped her successfully establish a thriving business. Nobody imagined that this young woman would turn her small act of cleanliness into a profitable green enterprise.

Hannah’s business plan was indeed comprehensive, as it included the assessment of various kinds of waste and the identification of recycling options. She prioritised two categories of waste for recycling:

  • Plastic waste: polythene bags, plastics, cans, bottles, containers, and packaging material.

  • Electronic waste: broken computers, calculators, television sets, mobile phones, chargers and used batteries.

Hannah quickly recognised the demand for recycling in these markets. Where plastic waste recycling was still a shy market, the e-waste market was promising. Those who could not afford new electronics would purchase used ones or repair old ones for re-use, especially that Harare had a dependable repair industry as Hannah recently learned.

At the beginning, she and her husband would bring plastic and e-waste to the market, but they were only able to carry small amounts. Within a few months, she was able to save enough money, and her entrepreneurial spirit led her to hire and train six young men and women to help collect waste, carry it to the recycling unit, sort it, and bring it to the market. They would then sort and identify the waste that has the potential to fetch good prices. With her leadership skills, Hannah earned the trust of market traders, who began making advance payments.

Eight months later, she expanded her operations, hired more workers, and even built a store. She now runs a successful recycling business, earning enough income to provide for her family.

Hanna is grateful for the training and skills that SNV’s training equipped her with. ‘SNV’s Opportunities for Youth Employment project has improved the livelihoods of many youths by creating green employment and enterprise opportunities,’ She attests. ‘The programme helped me grasp key human resource and financial management concepts, which are very important for running a successful business.’

Serving as an inspiration to other young women in her community, Hannah is now creating employment opportunities for fellow youths. She is now focused on overcoming the challenges of the business and plans to export materials to neighbouring countries like South Africa, although the process is hampered by procedural barriers. Despite these challenges, Hannah's story is a testament to the positive impact of youth-led initiatives in addressing environmental and economic issues. Her determination and success offer hope for a cleaner, greener future in Zimbabwe.

SNV’s Regional Knowledge Hub:

Under the partnership with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), SNV in Zimbabwe has established a regional Southern Africa knowledge hub, based in Harare. This hub connects the Zimbabwe projects with projects in Zambia (also funded by SDC), Mozambique (funded by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands) and Tanzania (funded by SDC Tanzania). The Southern Africa regional hub takes the SNV interventions to higher strategic levels by means of systematic knowledge development informed by action research.

Despite a two-year lull during the Covid outbreak, implementatiion on the project is largely on track, with results shown below. Youth enrollment has been very high and is set to exceed targets. Emphasis has now been put on implementing the later stages of the YEE approach, namely mentorship and coaching with a view to boosting (self-) employment and entrepreneurship among those youths who have acquired basic life skills and technical training.


Youth registered


Youth found employment opportunities


Youth gained soft skills


Youth acquired technical skills

Join us at the YEE Global Forum 2023 in Ghana!

SNV, in partnership with the European Union delegation to Ghana, is organising the 2023 Youth Employment and Entrepreneurship Global Forum. The event will take place between 14 and 15 November in Accra, Ghana, bringing together local, regional, and international stakeholders, including young entrepreneurs, to explore how young people can engage with the Green Jobs market.

To participate in person or online, please register at the link below: