In early 2022, UNHCR sub-office in Arua, Uganda, faced an issue with their local waste management. Without a tailored strategy to handle waste, their disposal practices did not meet local standards. To address this pressing issue, a collaborative effort was undertaken by the local team to develop an effective waste management strategy. 

Step 1: Develop a strategy 

As the first step, the local Associate Administrative Officer, S M Rafiqul Alam Sikder, initiated a strategy development process assisted by Gordon Enku Adima, Assistant Environment Officer, in liaison with the Greening and Sustainability Team represented by Makeena Kiugu, Policy Specialist from Headquarters, Geneva, and Asa Alfsdotter, Environmental Management Systems Specialist based in Kampala Uganda. 

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Creative re-usage of old tires for decorative purposes at the Arua office garden. © S M Rafiqul Alam Sikder

The Arua team also held innovative and collaborative meetings with the cleaning company providing services to the local office to gather their insights, understand their challenges, and assess their willingness to participate in the office's waste management transformation. Based on this collective effort, UNHCR colleagues developed a clear strategy. 

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UNHCR colleagues discussing best practices for sorting waste into the colour-coded recycling bins. © S M Rafiqul Alam Sikder

Step 2:  Track and sort 

With the strategy in place, UNHCR staff started to track waste production at the office. Based on the observed waste types, new colour-coded and labelled bins helped them to properly sort and dispose of food, paper, plastic, motor oil and related materials, and general waste. Colleagues also submitted data on waste types and volumes to UNIFIER – UNHCR global infrastructure information database – contributing to the Greening the Blue Report. This data was crucial to pinpoint areas to improve and to monitor the overall progress of the initiative.  

Step 3: Raise awareness 

In line with a holistic approach to waste management, a comprehensive awareness training was developed for everybody at the office, including: the cleaning team, gardeners, and security personnel. The training focused on the importance of sorting waste, recycling, and the proper usage of colour-coded bins. 

Results 📊

Despite some early challenges with learning new waste disposal habits, the initiative achieved significant improvements at the Arua office. UNHCR colleagues are now more aware of their critical role in waste management and are increasingly adhering to the strategy. From April to September 2023, the office has separately collected about 2,400 kilograms of waste. The cleaning and gardening teams and their parent company now also understand the importance of supporting the office’s sustainability efforts. With their help, plastic waste from the office now goes to the local recyclers. 

“Our new waste management strategy has significantly reduced our office's environmental impact by decreasing waste output and increasing recycling efforts. We are proud to see the results, which are truly a testament to the dedication, collaboration, and hard work of all our local colleagues behind this transformative initiative. We are excited to see how our initiative develops, and we hope to help shape a greener and more sustainable future for all.” S M Rafiqul Alam Sikder, Associate Administrative Officer.

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Arua team collaborating on the office’s waste reduction efforts. © S M Rafiqul Alam Sikder 

Congratulations to the Arua team on this great collaborative effort and for making this initiative a success!

Adapted from: UNHCR Intranet, publication by Hasti Aghakouchak