Nairobi garbage collectors feel the pinch of plastic bags ban

Plastic bags, which were the main source of income are no longer a treasure.

A garbage collector is surrounded by Stork Birds as she sorts through mountains of garbage at the Dandora Dump Site on September 13, 2017. The ban on plastic has left most garbage collectors with tonnes of plastics meant for recycling with nowhere to take them. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

IN SUMMARY

  • While rummaging through some fresh garbage delivered by a county government truck, Ms Julia Njeri said she was not getting enough “to feed my children”.
  • The trash collector added that she used to make up to Sh2,500 a day before the government banned plastic bags, but the figure had gone down to Sh350 or less.
  • The City County government employee who has worked at the dumpsite for 17 years said the paper bag menace had led to the filling of the landfill ahead of its time.

The decision by the government to ban plastic bags has hit garbage collectors at the Dandora landfill in Nairobi hard.

The government outlawed polythene bags on August 28, rendering thousands of city residents who earned their living from collecting plastics for recycling jobless.

Although not all plastics are banned, tonnes of collected paper bags packed in large sacks lie at the entrance of the dumpsite.

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More than 3,000 garbage collectors, mostly women and young people, flocked the landfill for plastic bags daily, which they later sold.

LARGEST SHARE

Although the composition and amount of garbage taken to the dumpsite has not changed, plastic bags are no longer a treasure.

Mr Joseph Maina, a plastic bags collector who volunteered to take the Nation team on a guided tour of the dumpsite said he had been in the business for 10 years.

Mr Maina said plastic bags contributed the largest share in recycling business.

A kilogramme of the bags fetched Sh10.

“We got good money from selling plastic bags. Carton boxes only go for Sh3 per kilo,” said Mr Maina.

LITTLE INTEREST

He added that different kinds of garbage collected fetched different prices.

Plastic bottles are sold at between Sh5 and Sh10 a kilo “but not any more”, he said.

Mr Maina added that buyers were showing little interest in plastic bottles because of the uncertainty.

“There are fears that the ban could be extended to the bottles,” he said.

LOWER PRICES

We found Ms Maureen Awuor sitting next to her pile of plastic bags.

She said efforts by collectors to persuade community buyers to get the plastic bags even at lower prices had not yielded any fruit.

“Those buying in small quantities are giving us only Sh3 per kilogramme. And they specify the quality,” she said.

“The tough white plastic bags still have a market, but finding them is not easy.”

She said collectors were turning to reselling garbage bags that were still in good shape to area residents at a shilling each.

KEEN

While rummaging through some fresh garbage delivered by a county government truck, Ms Julia Njeri said she was not getting enough “to feed my children”.

Minutes later, she found milk packets, which she said would boost her earnings for the day.

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“Buyers are keen on the type of plastic bag they want. It must be strong, thick, white and opaque. I have no other source of income,” said Ms Njeri.

Ms Ann Wangui has abandoned plastic bags and began collecting carton boxes.

OFFICE GARBAGE

“I have resorted to office garbage. The boxes are clean and can fetch up to Sh3 per kilogramme,” Ms Wangui said.

The trash collector added that she used to make up to Sh2,500 a day before the government banned plastic bags, but the figure had gone down to Sh350 or less.

Dandora dumpsite deputy manager Abraham Wambua, however, does not share the same sentiments with the garbage collectors.

He welcomed the plastic bags ban announced by Environment CS Judi Wakhungu and the National Environment Management Authority.

LANDFILL

The City County government employee who has worked at the dumpsite for 17 years said the paper bag menace had led to the filling of the landfill ahead of its time.

He said garbage received in 2000 was different from the one being delivered currently.

“The place has suffocated because of plastics,” Mr Wambua said, adding that the bags did not rot, increasing the height of the garbage by more than three metres.

“The height would have been far much lower. Blame the valley you are seeing on plastics,” said Mr Wambua.

He added that the impassable roads and clogged sewers in Dandora and the landfill were due to plastics, particularly polythene bags.

Mr Wambua called on the national and county governments to adopt new technology in managing waste.

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