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Diourbel Senegal

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City Report: Interview with a local Waste Picker

A Conversation With: Aliou Faye, a waste picker from Dakar, Senegal.

Personal Story

Aliou has been a waste picker since 1996. At that time he was 17 and with three years to go until university he did not have enough money to continue his education so he decided to become a waste picker. Today Aliou lives outside Dakar near a huge dumpsite called Mbeubeuss where he picks plastic and metal and sells them to a recycling broker.Aliou explained, “It doesn’t trouble me to do this work, because for me it is a job; something to earn money. So it is like everyone—it is work that gives me my livelihood. Like people who work in offices, this is my job. In Senegal they say there is no differentiation between jobs, it is just work.”At the close of his interview he said, “Rather than harassing people—going in and stealing – I prefer doing my work peacefully. You have to work to earn your livelihood. It is only work that pays.”

Formal Solid Waste Management System

Created in 1968 and currently covering an expanse of more or less 175 hectares, Mbeubeuss is the only landfill serving the entire city of Dakar. Just north of the city in the Pikine Department of Malika-Mer, the government gives contracts to trucking companies (Viole is contracted for 20 per cent) to haul 460,000 tons of waste per year to the site.Trucking companies are paid per tonnage of waste. Therefore, Aliou reports that trucking companies have been known to mix sand and rocks in their waste. In an effort to stop the corruption, the government has placed 20 government agents at the entrance of the landfill to ensure there is no sand or rocks. The trucks are weighed as they come into the landfill, and then weighed again after they dump their haul. In this way their pay is determined.

Informal Waste Management System

Aliou estimates that there are more than 2,500 people earning income by selling recyclables and compost in the dumpsite. They gather metal and paper in their sacks or wheelbarrows, separate in their homes, and then sell to middlemen. (People from Cameroon collect all the glass and export it to their country.) Waste pickers earn between 1,000 and 1,500 in the Communaute Financiere Africaine franc (CFA Franc) a day. Aliou tends to sell the recyclables he collects every day earning anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 XOF – CFA franc, (1,500 is equivalent to US$2.74) but some people stockpile recyclables before selling. Everyone sells separately. In addition to recycling, there are different pits in the dump. Waste that has been there for 10 years is collected for compost and a different group of waste pickers sell it.There are children in the dumpsite and they are thinking of starting a school.

Waste Picker Organization

Aliou works with an association of 1,200 members, which was created in 1994. It is called Book-diom, which means “united people with a similar vision.” They are the only association of waste pickers in the country. Before the home ministry recognized them in 1995, waste pickers were considered to be bandits. Now, with recognition from the government, they are an association with official identity cards.Aliou is the coordinator of the association and president of the crisis committee. Presidents are elected every five years, and there are six committee members.They would like to reconstruct and augment their association. They currently have a community center (Maison communautaire des recuperateurs et recycleurs de Mbeubeuss; Malika zone of the city, the only health center in the landfill area) that was constructed by an NGO in 1996. The center has a clinic with a doctor and a pharmacist, and they have two nurses at their disposal. They also have a training center for young people who want to become waste pickers, two meeting rooms, and an office area for the administration with computers and internet. The Environmental Minister gave them three computers two months ago, one in the office and two in the training center. They also have a fridge for medicine in the medical center and they recently received funds to build another room for patients and to buy a television.Aliou reported that two months ago the environmental minister asked them to come to the government offices. A delegation of 15 waste pickers, with Aliou as spokesperson, went to talk with ministry officials. The government proposed closing the dumpsite and providing compensation for all waste pickers, even those that are not part of the association. Now that the government has changed things may be different; however, Aliou’s group has recently asked for an audience with the new minister to understand their plans for the dumpsite.

Current Central Issues

For five or six years the government has been talking about shutting down Mbeumeuss and opening a new site, including a segregation center. The site is planned for a location 15 kilometers away from the existing dumpsite. The government has proposed that 350 waste pickers from the existing estimated 7,040 people living in Mbeumeuss will get jobs at the new recycling center. It has also been proposed that waste pickers will have to pay money to initially become workers in the new center. The proposal is for sorting recyclables at the household level, and then hauling the recyclables to the sorting center. The government will provide member waste pickers a salary for working at the new center.