Supporting the Informal Recycling Industry through our Bottle Building

While there is no formal recycling system in Senegal (to the shock of many Westerners) there is little that goes to waste in this small West African country. Things are reused, refixed and resold many times over.

Reusing and repurposing items are ways individuals can contribute to environmental sustainability. As a space to promote healthy living and ecological design, Bégué Coco Beach Cabana has been designed to incorporate as many recycled materials into the construction as possible–particularly plastic bottles.water bottle house

Inspired by a house made of entirely plastic bottles, we decided we would build the bar and terrace area of the cabana out of all bottles. When doing the measurements and calculations, it became clear that we were going to need over 1,000 large soda bottles.

To get our hands on this amount of bottles there was only one place to go—Mbeubeuss, one of the largest open aired land fills in West Africa.

“…Mbeubeuss is the name of the landfill and it is located in the district of Malika in the suburb of Dakar called Pikine. It began in 1968 on a dried river bed in Niayes which was Dakar’s principal garden region. While this seems like a silly location choice, at the time Dakar was much smaller and nobody knew it would grow to have 2.5 million people. It receives all of the household and solid industrial waste in Dakar which adds up to about 460,000 tons a year. Organic waste and other materials are not separated, but simply dumped by the trucks after being weighed. The open garbage area extends 175 hectares. While one would think that nobody would live in this area, in fact, 7,0338 people reside in Malika, and many actually live in Mbeubeuss…”

I was familiar with this place because I had visited it with my Environment & Development class when I first studied abroad in Senegal in 2011. This visit was one of my most memorable experiences that has fueled my passion for supporting communities to find a healthy balance between their economic needs and environmental preservation.

Here are parts of a blog piece I wrote about my initial impressions of the Mbeubeuss community.

“After a lot of weird logistics with one of the leaders of Mbeubeuss we were given permission to walk around. The man in the army jacket led us over hills of bottles, tattered clothing, dolls heads, metal objects and who knows what else down into the village of Baol in Mbeubeuss. Baol was made up of shanty shacks in between which there were separated piles of iron, plastic bottles, radio parts, Heineken bottles and even computer parts. As we walked along, we greeted everyone and most people greeted us back and gave us a smile. Although all of us felt extremely uncomfortable as white middle class Americans touring through a Senegalese village built of waste, it is always a wonderful realization that you can break most of that cross-cultural tension if you just treat people like respectable human beings.

 

Our army jacket leader kept stopping to introduce us to older men who by American and even Senegalese standards would be taken for crazy homeless men. As it turns out they were the most respected men in Mbeubeuss because they were the first people to begin the scavenging and pioneered the way for future inhabitants. We also met the “aluminum” man who comes to buy all of the aluminum to sell back to businesses. There are individuals who act as the middle men and come to buy one specific material, but there are also companies that buy their specific bottle or container back to clean and reuse. They even showed us a pile of different iron objects that a Japanese company will purchase when they have collected enough to fill a truck…

…Back in Dakar, my friend Jared and I walked around and looking at the piles of trash on the ground I laughed. These piles of trash were nothing in comparison to what I had seen that day. Furthermore, just thinking about the place my trash goes when I do manage to find a garbage can doesn’t comfort me anymore than putting it in the streets of Dakar. When I bought a bissap juice in a reused crushed plastic water bottle I jokingly said “ha I wonder if this bottle comes from Mbeubeuss.” I didn’t know whether to be disgusted or pleased that I was supporting struggling entrepreneurs

While seeing the amount of garbage that is produced by Dakar, it makes me think about all of the garbage that I don’t see in the US. Americans produce so much more waste than the Senegalese, but see none of it. In a time where climate change debates rule the world, this issue of waste is just another glaring example of how the people in developing countries are much more concerned about their economic situation rather their than environmental or even public health issues. The fact is that the people of Mbeubeuss do not have the privilege to worry about such things, but at least they can see the damage they are doing rather than shiny Western countries where our appearance does not reflect our environmental footprint.

Ever since this trip in 2011 I have wanted to work with the Mbeubeuss community, and what better way than to support this man made recycling machine than by paying them for their services. After a grueling afternoon in this trash drump, our Operations Director Abdou Khadre brought the bottles back to the beach where we have since scrubbed down and organized them by size, color and brand. We still have a lot of work left to do but take a sneak peak at our bar thus far. Isn’t it beautiful? ONE MAN’S TRASH IS ANOTHER MAN’S TREASURE!

 

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