South Sudan capital in grip of plastic waste

Friday March 4 2016

Some of the waste collected at the Yei Road waste dump in the South Sudanase capital Juba. PHOTO | NATION CORRESPONDENT

Some of the waste collected at the Yei Road waste dump in the South Sudanase capital Juba. PHOTO | NATION CORRESPONDENT 

Pauline Adul sets off at the crack of dawn on her daily journey to the Yei Road dumpsite, defying the insecurity and the early morning dew in the South Sudan capital Juba.

The eight kilometre journey from her home in Gudele to place where she collects plastic bottles lasts about one hour and a half.

On arrival, she gets down to work as she swats away flies.

Ms Adul has for over three years been making a living collecting plastic bottles for sale.

These bottles are brought to the dumpsite by garbage collectors from the bustling suburbs and business areas of Juba.

Hundreds of thousands of plastic bottles arrive at the dumpsite every day, in a similar manner.

And Adul is not alone. Several other women report to the site to fight it out with flies as they rummage through piles of garbage for what they consider valuable.

Indeed Adul is the leader of a group of eight.

The majority at the Yei Road site target plastic bottles and aluminium cans, which they say are easier to sell.

A short distance way, smoke can be seen billowing into the skies from the piles of burning garbage.

LIVELIHOOD

To the women, and a few men at the dumpsite, a collection of enough bottles for sale means a livelihood. Contribution to cleaner environment whether negative or positive, is the least of their concern.

Ms Adul’s group earns SSP5 (Sh500) for every 1.5kg of plastic bottles.

Making a kilo of plastic requires about 50 pieces of empty 500mls-capacity-plastic bottles, while 50kg require at least 2,500 pieces.

Several of the garbage people operate independently in different parts of the dumpsite.

Nevertheless, whatever is retrieved for resale constitutes a small, almost negligible proportion of the plastic waste Juba generates daily.

Unconfirmed reports indicate that the South Sudanese capital generates at least 750,000 plastic water bottles daily.

A French environmentalist Olivier Laboulle avers.

“I think on average, Juba produces at least 750,000 water bottles a day; that means if we are able to collect one ton a day, we can make it,” he says.

RECYCLING PROVISIONS

Not many companies producing plastic materials have recycling provisions, at least in Juba.

A local NGO, the Environmental Rehabilitation Programme (ERP) seeks to recycle the Juba plastic waste.

Formed in 2013, ERP now operates a recycling plant at the premises of South Sudan Breweries Limited, (SSBL), which is one of the producers of plastic bottles.

According to ERP manager for the recycling plant, Mr Evan Kabugo, majority plastic producers were least bothered about the environmental implications of their waste products.

Mr Kabugo warns that the burning of the plastic waste was harmful to both current and the future generations.

He recalls cautioning a group of women to desist from burning plastics as the fumes harmed them as well as their children and even the unborn.

ERP, which now runs two recycling machines, says they can only recycle up two tons of plastic wastes daily.

“If these water companies were concerned, then we would not have all these empty bottles around every corner of Juba,” lamented Mr Kabugo.