Senegal’s Plastic Recycling Entrepreneurship

Waste pickers searching for plastics at the main dump in Dakar, Senegal.

The article below, written by Ruth Maclean and accompanied with photographs by Finbarr O’Reilly, is a portrait in developing world green opportunism. It is not a pretty picture, per se, but it is a sight to behold after the market for recycled plastic seemed to implode in recent years. The photo above shows the gritty reality of the work. The photos below show some of the prettier, and more entrepreneurial downstream opportunities from that work:

Workers stripping reusable plastic from mats at the Sosenap factory, which recycles plastic to make mats and carpets in Diamniadio, on the outskirts of Dakar.

‘Everyone’s Looking for Plastic.’ As Waste Rises, So Does Recycling.

Plagued by plastic pollution, Senegal wants to replace pickers at the garbage dump with a formal recycling system that takes advantage of the new market for plastics.

The main event at the outdoor venue for Dakar Fashion Week in December, which had a theme of sustainability.

DAKAR, Senegal — A crowd of people holding curved metal spikes jumped on trash spilling out of a dump truck in Senegal’s biggest landfill, hacking at the garbage to find valuable plastic.

Nearby, sleeves rolled up, suds up to their elbows, women washed plastic jerrycans in rainbow colors, cut into pieces. Around them, piles of broken toys, plastic mayonnaise jars and hundreds of discarded synthetic wigs stretched as far as the eye could see, all ready to be sold and recycled.

Plastic waste is exploding in Senegal, as in many countries, as populations and incomes grow and with them, demand for packaged, mass-produced products.

This has given rise to a growing industry built around recycling plastic waste, by businesses and citizens alike. From Chinese traders to furniture makers and avant-garde fashion designers, many in Senegal make use of the constant stream of plastic waste.

Mbeubeuss — the dump site serving Senegal’s seaside capital of Dakar — is where it all begins. More than 2,000 trash pickers, as well as scrubbers, choppers, haulers on horse-drawn carts, middlemen and wholesalers make a living by finding, preparing and transporting the waste for recycling. It adds up to a huge informal economy that supports thousands of families.

Over more than 50 years at the dump, Pape Ndiaye, the doyen of waste pickers, has watched the community that lives off the dump grow, and seen them turn to plastic — a material that 20 years ago the pickers considered worthless…

Read the whole article here.

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