In front of Pugu Hills lie the leftovers of Dar es Salaam. At first it looks like mountains of grey soil, but on closer sight it becomes clear that it is layer after layer of waste that has found its final destination – Pugu Kinyamwezi dumpsite.
Dar es Salaam produces around 4,260 tonnes of waste every day and 30 to 50 per cent of it arrives here by trucks that are operated by private companies under the city’s municipalities. Already outside the entrance to the dumpsite the air is full of flies. There is a smell that instils a sour sensation, like the taste of bottled water that has been left in the sun for too long. The trucks can be seen from far away as clouds of dust that closes in on the dumpsite and suddenly materialises as a lorry loaded with bags of waste. On top of the waste a couple of men grip tightly to the lorry’s metal frame as it makes a sharp turn to the left. The truck has to speed excessively in order to pass through the loose sand that covers the passage into the dumpsite. It reaches its final spot and unloads the waste onto the ground. It enters into chaos and sour, acid-like air.
Instantly the trash shifts hands. Here it enters into a whole new economy. On the many layers of waste people walk around in hectic activity to collect plastic bottles, wrap plastic, glass or any material that can be sold for profit. On one of the waste hills a couple of women sit in front of a small pile of charcoal which they have found among the waste. They pick the bigger pieces of charcoal and put them aside in a bag.
Mohamed is 45 years old and has been picking and selling waste for ten years. His green shirt is almost brown and the dust from the trash covers his face and gets into his eyes. He picks plastic bottles and soft plastic and sells it to a middleman at the dumpsite who then sells it onward to companies. For one kilo of plastic he earns Sh100. He does not do it out of choice, but because he does not know what else he should do.
“I come here every day. If I can’t come here, there will be no other thing I can do. I will have to sell karanga, juice or cigarettes in the street,” he says.
Behind him a woman rises up from the collection of charcoal and asks with frustration in her voice “Politics talk, but what is their answer to us?” she asks and continues to sort a bag halfway full of plastic and glass bottles.
Trash to rest
At the dumpsite all recycling are done by informal waste pickers as there are no official recycling activities. Dar es Salaam City Council manages the dump where around 100 to 150 trucks arrive with trash from the city every day. The manager of the dumpsite Richard Kishere estimates that the amounts of waste vary from 950 to 2,000 tonnes per day, and especially during the rainy season when the roads are slippery his team can find it difficult to handle the pressure of waste.
“On Tuesday last week two of the municipalities were delivering on the same day and the road was so busy. The people who push the waste around using excavators almost didn’t have time to eat their lunch,” he says.
He walks next to the hills of waste and watches as trucks pass over the sand to the hill where they offload their burdens to the waste pickers that are waiting. Their work is important to him.
“I need them very much because they are the people who are doing their work. There should be a better environment here for them to do their things,” Mr Richard says.
The waste that is not picked and packed by informal collectors will stay on the waste hills. Pugu dump is its final stop. The food waste and paper decompose within weeks; however, it will take from ten to 20 years before the plastic bags that make up a big part of the layers of trash are transformed into soil.
On one of the heaps of waste a group of men and women sit and watch the dumping of trash from a distance. They take a break from their waste collection, and behind them huge polysacks stuffed with plastic bottles wait to be taken to companies in Dar es Salaam. Half a kilometre further away, across a green field, the shiny roofs of newly constructed houses appear. The houses look like they belong to a completely different world. Among the people is 22-year-old Hebron. He wears rubber boots, but his hands are bare and his t-shirt is coloured brown of dirt. He explains that he can sell Uhai plastic bottles to a price of Sh600 per kilo to a Chinese company that reuses the plastic, and emphasises that it has to be solely Uhai bottles and not the MoEXTRA bottles (of which PREYO TZ has found the solutions towards the use of this uncollected PET plastic wastes). But the treatment he gets is not worth the hours among waste. He explains that he does not feel treated as a human being.
“There are no human rights here,” he says and leaves his hands hanging in the air. “I work a lot and get very little money. I can’t even afford to eat chipsi,” Hebron says.
He wishes that they had at least a first aid kit here, when they spend hour after hour among poisonous waste that lies around in the open. A young woman next to him raises her voice and says that she feels mistreated by the Chinese companies as they set high demands to the plastic she brings them and pays her very little.
Beneath them the trucks with waste continue to slide through the sand into the current dumping ground. Because of the rainy season sand has been spread out to absorb the rainwater. Over the waste pickers and the entire dumpsite crows circle around on the lookout for food waste. They are waste pickers too.
Waste was on the national agenda last December when The Late President cancelled celebrations of Independence Day and called for a national street clean-up instead.
But at the dumpsite they haven’t seen remarkable changes.
The manager Richard explains that the biggest challenge is the lack of equipment. Since they lack excavators that can place the waste vertically, they have to use bulldozers that only spread it horizontally, and with the amounts of trash it creates a situation where they have to shift their place of dumping often. He would like to construct a proper landfill where trucks could simply load off the waste into a huge hole in the ground. But what about recycling then?
Mr Membe who is the Head of Department of Waste Management at Dar es Salaam City Council, thinks the handling of waste needs to go back to the communities and away from the dumpsite. He explains that they want to make people aware of the importance of recycling their trash. He acknowledges that the waste pickers play an important role, and that the municipalities should engage in the same kind of recycling.
“We can’t afford for the municipality to pick the waste, so we have to privatise it. We need more private sector collectors to pick the waste and recyclable materials,” he says.
Back at the dumpsite the trucks have formed a line and they wait for their turn to tip off their contents on the ground. Once they are done, the men, women and birds take over in the search for things of value, and the empty trucks return to the city through the afternoon traffic to collect more leftovers from the booming urban life.
PREYO TZ finds the dumpsite to be overweighed and massive project plans from the collection system to the disposing systems should be looked very closely, with introduction proper major projects like PLASMA GASIFICATION that does not affect the environment to reduce the already made disposals into valuable energy that would also solve the issue of electricity in rural and some urban areas, get fuels and other material products that are so valuable and can be found from trash.