Senegal: Plastic recycling boom on garbage mountain

| Formation of informal recycling system |

  In Senegal’s largest landfill, a group of people, armed with bent metal spikes, pounced on rubbish dumped from a dump truck. They scraped around, trying to find valuable plastic.
  Not far away, women rolled up their sleeves and let the soapy water cover their elbows. They are cleaning the debris of colorful plastic gasoline cans. They were littered with battered toys, plastic mayonnaise bottles and hundreds of discarded synthetic wigs. The number of them is endless, and they are all waiting to be sold or recycled.
  Like many countries, plastic waste in Senegal has skyrocketed as population and income growth increases demand for mass-produced packaging products.
  This phenomenon has spawned a growing industry centered on recycling plastic waste, involving both businesses and citizens. From foreign businessmen to furniture makers to avant-garde fashion designers, many in Senegal are taking advantage of a steady stream of plastic waste.

Children often go to the beach to pick up plastic waste.

  It all starts with the Mbebes dump. The landfill disposes of waste for the Senegalese capital, the coastal city of Dakar. There, more than 2,000 people, including scavengers, scrubbers, choppers, wagon porters, middlemen and wholesalers, all make their living recycling plastic waste. Together they find, pick up, and transport plastic waste. All links are linked together to form a huge informal economy that supports thousands of families.
  Pape N’Diaye, who has made a living at the Mbebes dump for more than 50 years, is a veteran of scavengers who have seen the growth of people who depend on the dump and watched them pick up plastic. Yet just 20 years ago, scavengers thought plastic was worthless.
  ”We are people who protect the environment,” said Ndiaye, 76. He looks at the plastic in the corner where he lives in the Mbebes dump. “We send all the things that pollute the environment to the factory, and the people in the factory will transform those things,” he said.
  But no matter how hard you try to recycle, most of Senegal’s waste still doesn’t get landfilled in time and is thrown everywhere. Copycat versions of Adidas sandals and bottles of various chocolate spreads clog the drain. Thin plastic bags swim like jellyfish in the surf on the Senegalese coast. The burning of plastic shopping bags in residential areas sent plumes of chemical-smelling smoke into misty skies.
  Senegal is just one of many countries trying to clean up their rubbish, establish a regulated waste disposal system, and expand the scope of recycling. The African Union has set a goal: by 2023, 50% of Africa’s urban waste will be recycled. This means that Senegal must manage the informal recycling system that has developed in the country over the past few decades, and the Mbebes dump is an important part of this system.

The theme of last year’s Dakar Fashion Week was sustainability.

Models posed for pictures next to bright plastic trim.

  Senegal is one of the countries with the strongest economic growth in West Africa, and recycled plastics are sent to various businesses in Senegal.
  The inland city of Thies is located fifty or sixty kilometers east of Dakar, which is famous for its brocade industry. A factory there spins recycled plastic pellets into long threads, which are then woven into bright plastic mats. This mat is used in almost every household in Senegal.
  In December, the runway at Dakar Fashion Week was covered with custom floor mats from the factory. The fashion week takes place in a forest of baobab trees, and the focus is on sustainability. The signs are all repurposed from old water bottles, and the tables and chairs are remodeled from melted plastic.
  The rush for sustainability has diverted the focus of scavengers, who have spent decades at the Mbebes dump collecting anything of value.
| Plastic recycling chaos emerges in order |

  ”Everyone is looking for plastic now,” said Mohammadou Wade, 50. He brewed a pot of mint-sweet tea outside his sorting shed, and laughed very happily. The shack is in the Mbebes dump, where Wade has been scavenging for more than 20 years.
  Aja Diop sits on a wooden bench beside her shack, wearing one of the elegant long dresses so popular with Senegalese women. She agreed with Ward.
  In 1998, 11-year-old Diop started scavenging. At that time, no one was interested in plastic, she said, so it was left in the trash and she only collected scrap metal. Today, the favorite buy of middlemen and dealers is plastic. Diop earns between $25 and $35 a week at the Mbebes dump, which she relies on to support her family.
  Both Ward and Diop are members of the informal trade union “Boc Romo”. The group represents more than half of the scavengers at the Mbebes dump, most of whom collect plastic all day.
  A few days later, I ran into her at Diop’s “workplace.” It’s called a “workplace”, but it’s actually a towering platform piled up with rancid garbage, and the environment is extremely harsh. I almost didn’t recognize her. She covered her face with a large printed scarf, two brimmed hats and sunglasses, covering her entire face in order to keep out the rubbish that was blowing in from all directions.
  Herds of white longhorns chomped on trash around us, and dozens of scavengers rushed to dump trucks. Some young people even climbed onto the roof of the car and hung it upside down, catching the precious plastic scattered as soon as they saw it. Finally, the bulldozers will dump the residual garbage to the edge of the garbage mountain.
  Like Diop, most plastic scavengers sell the plastic for 13 cents a kilo to two Chinese plastic traders with warehouses at the Mbebes dump. According to Abdul Dieng, the manager of the landfill, the two merchants will process the collected plastic into plastic pellets, which will then be shipped to China to make new products. As manager of Senegal’s growing waste disposal facility, Dion has created a bit of order in the chaos of the Mbebes dump.

  In addition to its own plastic waste, Senegal is also full of plastic waste from other countries.
| Multi-party game in recycling reform |

  In addition to its own plastic waste, Senegal is also full of plastic waste from other countries.
  Since 2018, China has refused to accept unprocessed plastic waste from other countries. To this end, the United States has been looking for new importers and began to send plastic waste to other countries, including Senegal.
  Today, that trade is changing, as the Senegalese government also appears to be cracking down on foreign plastic waste. Last year, a German company attempted to smuggle 25 tons of plastic waste into Senegal, but the ship involved was seized on the spot and the company was fined $3.4 million.

A factory in Thies spins recycled plastic pellets into long threads that are woven into mats commonly used in Senegalese households.

  In the past two years, the number of garbage trucks entering the Mbebes dump has risen from 300 to 500 a day.
  The Senegalese government says the massive landfill will close in a few years and be replaced by a small waste sorting and composting centre. This initiative is part of a cooperation project between Senegal and the World Bank. At that time, most of the money made from plastic waste will be turned over to the state treasury. As a result, scavengers worry about their livelihoods.
  Of the first scavengers who walked into the Mbebes dump in 1970, now only Ndiaye remains. He looked around the place where he had worked for half a century and recalled the baobab tree where he used to go for tea breaks. That big tree was long dead, replaced by piles of plastic. “They knew the business was coming in for money, so they wanted to take control,” N’Diaye said.
  However, Dion, the manager of the Mbebes dump, insisted they would either put scavengers to work in the new sorting centre, or help scavengers. Find other jobs that improve your life. But his remarks did not reassure everyone.
  Margate Diop, a program officer at the non-profit organization Vig, which is very concerned about the working poor around the world, said: “At the moment, there are a lot of variables. Also, we don’t know what the scavengers are in this change. location.”
  But for the hundreds of scavengers at the Mbebes dump, all they can do now is keep scavenging. They struggled to avoid bulldozers, bypass piles of guts, dodge cattle, and return to the battlefield armed with bent metal spikes and garbage bags.

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