‘Everybody is looking for plastic.’ As waste increases, so does recycling.

DAKAR, Senegal – A mob wielding curved metal spikes jumped onto trash cans spilling out of a truck at Senegal’s largest landfill, swarming the pile in search of valuable plastic.

Nearby, sleeves rolled up, reaching to the elbows, women wash rainbow-colored plastic towels, cut into pieces. Around them, piles of broken toys, plastic mayonnaise jars and hundreds of discarded synthetic wigs stretched as far as the naked eye could see, all ready to be sold and recycled.

Plastic waste is exploding in Senegal, as in many countries, as population and income grow and with it the demand for packaged, mass-produced products.

This has created a burgeoning industry built around the recycling of plastic waste, by businesses and people alike. From Chinese traders to furniture manufacturers and avant-garde fashion designers, many people in Senegal take advantage of the constant source of plastic waste.

Mbeubeuss – the dump serving Senegal’s seaside capital Dakar – is where it all started. More than 2,000 scavengers, as well as floor scrubbers, lawn mowers, lawn mowers on horse wagon, middlemen and wholesalers earn their living by finding, preparing and transporting waste for recycling. It created a huge informal economy supporting thousands of families.

Over 50 years in the landfill, Pape Ndiaye, a woman who picks up trash, has watched the communities living next to the landfill grow, and watched them turn to plastic – a material that 20 years ago Pick up trash considered worthless.

“We are environmentalists,” said 76-year-old Ndiaye, looking out over the piles of plastic littered on Gouye Gui, the corner of his landfill. “Everything pollutes it, we bring it to industries, and they transform it.”

Despite all recycling efforts, much of Senegal’s waste never ends up in landfills, instead ending up in the landscape. Knockoff Adidas sandals and cases used to be the local version of the Nutella stopper. Thin plastic bags that once contained drinking water swirled back and forth in waves of Senegalese people, like jellyfish. Plastic shopping bags caught fire in residential areas, sending plumes of chemical-smelling smoke into the hazy atmosphere.

Senegal is just one of many countries trying to clean up, formalize waste treatment systems and adopt recycling on a larger scale. By 2023, the African Union says, the goal is that 50% of waste used in African cities must be recycled.

But this means that Senegal also struggles with an informal system that has evolved over the decades, of which the large landfill at Mbeubeuss (pronounced Mm-beh-BEHSE) is a major part.

Recycled plastic is used by businesses of all stripes across Senegal, where one of the strong economies in West Africa.

At a factory in Thies, an inland city famous for carpet weaving in eastern Dakar, recycled pellets are spun into long strands, which are then woven into colorful plastic rugs that are used. in most households in Senegal.

Custom rugs from this factory line the catwalk at Dakar . Fashion Week in December, this time with a focus on sustainability and held in a baobab grove. The signs are built from old water bottles. Tables and chairs are made of melted plastic.

This trend has shifted the focus of scavengers, who have been working in landfills for decades, picking up anything of value.

Mouhamadou Wade, 50, said with a smile: “Everybody is looking for plastic now, as he brews a pot of sweet mint tea outside his sorting shack in Mbeubeuss, where he has worked as a trash picker for more than 20 years.

Adja Seyni Diop, sitting on a wooden bench by the shack in a flowing gown favored by Senegalese women, agrees.

When she first started picking up trash, aged 11 in 1998, no one was interested in buying plastic, she said, so she put it in the trash, just collecting scrap. But today, plastic is the easiest thing to sell to middlemen and traders. She supports the family with the income she earns there, from $25 to $35 a week.

Mr. Wade and Ms. Diop work together at Bokk Jom, a kind of informal union that represents more than half of the trash pickers in Mbeubeuss. And most of them spend all day looking for plastic.

A few days later, I ran into Miss Diop at her place of work – a towering pedestal made entirely of rancid waste, so vexed with an environment it was called “Yemen”. I barely recognized her, with her face obscured by a headband, two hats and sunglasses, to protect her from the dust particles blowing from all directions.

All around us, herds of white, long-horned cattle gnawed at rubbish as dozens of litter pickers descended on each empty dump truck. Some young people even hang from the top of the truck to catch the precious plastic as it spills out of the truck, before bulldozers come to sweep what is left at the edge of the mountain of rubbish.

Most plastic-targeting pickers, like Ms. Diop, sell it, for about 13 cents a kilogram, to two Chinese plastic merchants who have warehouses at the landfill. Said Abdou Dieng, manager of Mbeubeuss, who works for Senegal’s burgeoning waste management agency and has brought some order to the landfill chaos.

Over the past two years, the number of trucks arriving at Mbeubeuss daily has increased from 300 to 500.

However, the government says that in a few years, the huge landfill will close, in favor of much smaller sorting and composting centers as part of a project in partnership with the World Bank.

After that, most of the money made from plastic waste will go to government coffers. Garbage pickers make a living.

Mr. Ndiaye, the last of the original scavengers to arrive in Mbeubeuss in 1970, has surveyed his workplace for the past half century. He remembered the big baobab tree he used to brew tea, now long dead, replaced by piles of plastic.

“They know there’s money in there,” he said of the government. “And they want to control it.”

But Mr. Dieng, the government’s landfill manager, stressed that the scavengers will be assigned jobs at the new sorting centres, “or we help them find a job that will allow them to live.” better than before.”

That doesn’t reassure people.

Maguette Diop, project officer at WIEGOa nonprofit focused on the working poor worldwide, “and the position of scavengers in these changes is unclear.”

For now, however, hundreds of scavengers have to keep picking.

Scattered bulldozers, piles of animal and livestock intestines, with bent metal spikes and garbage bags in their hands, they plunged into battle again.

Mady Camaracontribution report. ‘Everybody is looking for plastic.’ As waste increases, so does recycling.

Fry Electronics Team

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