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Plastic collectors eke out a living on Juba’s rubbish dumps

Anthony Wani
Women and men in South Sudan’s capital eke out a basic living from rubbish, and, by extension, benefit the environment.
1.06.2015  |  Juba
A truck from the Environmental Rehabilitation Programme (ERP) picks up plastic bottles from a garbage dump-site outside of Juba, May 23, 2015.
A truck from the Environmental Rehabilitation Programme (ERP) picks up plastic bottles from a garbage dump-site outside of Juba, May 23, 2015.

Every dawn break Pauline Adul walks to the garbage dump, beating away the early morning dew off the grass along the path.

She walks for an hour and a half from her home in Gudele to scout for plastic bottles at the dump site, about eight kilometres away, her only way to scrape together a living.

Every morning at seven I leave home, and go back the same way in the evening,” she says, waving away a swarm of flies gathered around her head.

She is one among a crowd who go to the dump site daily, collecting plastic bottles and selling them for a fee.

Evan Kabugo, ERP Recycling Plant Manager, operating a plastic waste shredder in Juba, May 23, 2015.
(cc) The Niles | Anthony Wani
Bottles arrive at the dump mixed with other garbage from Juba’s bustling suburbs and business areas. Thousands of plastic bottles are discarded here every day.

Several other women can be seen bent over piles of garbage, raking through the tonnes of waste. Behind them plumes of smoke billow into the skies as heaps of rubbish are burnt.

Those eking out a living from rubbish search for plastic bottles and aluminium cans, which they say are the easiest to sell.

For the women and men toiling under the sun every day, the work is about making a basic living, but they are also benefiting the environment by recycling waste.

Adul’s group receives SSP 1 (around 30 US cents) for every 1.5 kilograms of plastic bottles. To make a kilo of plastic one needs 50 empty half-litre plastic bottles.

Adul is the leader of a group of nine other women. Elsewhere, other people toil independently at garbage heaps, just one of many around Juba.

According to unconfirmed reports and independent analysts at least 750,000 bottles of water produced daily in Juba. That means if we can collect one tonne of plastic a day, we can make it,” Olivier Laboulle, a French environmentalist says.

But few plastic bottle producing companies have practical recycling policies.

One local non-governmental organisation that recycles plastics is the Environmental Rehabilitation Programme (ERP).

This waste may end up becoming hazardous in the nearest future.”
Evan Kabugo
Formed in April 2013, ERP now operates a recycling plant at the premises of South Sudan Breweries Limited. It crushes old plastic bottles as well as broken beer crates.

The ERP manager for the recycling plant, Evan Kabugo, says most plastic producers are not concerned about the environmental implications of plastic waste.

They just kept burning it. This waste may end up becoming hazardous in the nearest future, for the generations that will come,” he says, adding that he has told women to stop burning plastics as this could affect their children’s health.

ERP now runs two recycling machines and say they can recycle up to two tonnes of plastic wastes daily.

If these water companies were concerned, then we would not have all this empty bottles scattered around every corner of Juba,” Kabugo says, suggesting that each company should set up dust bins to collect plastic bottles or offer incentives to the Juba recycle plants to improve their services.

Richard Lamu, a recent graduate from the University of Juba’s College of Environmental Studies, argued that bottling companies should be held accountable for the waste they produce.

They should also have a minimum crushing limit for plastic waste a day,” he says. The Ministry for the Environment should hold them to account.”

According to a 2012 report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) about the state of waste management in South Sudan, it was projected that the landfill along the Yei road would generate 20 tonnes of recyclable waste per day.

Around 300 collectors gather approximately six tonnes of recyclables per day at the Yei Road dumping site in Juba,” the report notes, adding the rubbish collectors gather around a third of the total amount of recyclable waste dumped.