HARARE – Terrence Chikumbirike spends the better part of his day walking around Harare’s suburbs and the city centre collecting polyethylene terephthalate or PET plastic containers for a living.
With no educational qualifications, he earns almost $6 daily from his labour.
Chikumbirike is part of the thousands of people around Harare who are directly assisting in recycling waste.
“I stay in Mbare and collect about 12kg per day. The bottles are bought at $0,50 per kg. I am not sure about the distance that I walk because I spend the whole day on my feet, ensuring that I collect as many bottles as I can.
“I do not complain from my earnings because I do not have any educational qualifications that can afford me a better paying job. I can take my children to school and put food on the table from what I get but the job is gruelling. I cannot afford to get sick because if I miss a day’s work, I have nothing,” Chikumbirike said.
Thousands of families like Chikumbirike’s live in Harare, among the mounds of garbage bags that they transport from nearby dumpsites.
Most earn less than $5 a day and subsist on segregating and selling recyclable waste such as plastics and styrofoam.
A recent Zimbabwe State of the Environment report revealed that plastics of all types constitute five to 10 percent of all solid waste produced.
According to a paper titled A Situational Analysis of Waste Management in Harare, Zimbabwe, at least 70 percent of the collected waste is crudely tipped at open dumpsites, with 90 percent of it not meeting basic environmental standards. Environmental Management Agency (Ema) publicity manager Steady Kangata said ideally, not all waste should be disposed of at dumpsites, as some materials are recyclable.
He said the current waste disposal method being used is very costly because it involves generations of waste, transportation and disposal — all without recycling.
“There needs one site as a landfill and another for hazardous substances. At the moment hazardous waste such as batteries are all dumped at Pomona despite them requiring to be separated. Only a small percentage of non-recyclable material is supposed to come to the landfill,” Kangata said.
He said when plastics end up in landfills and burn as in the Pomona fire, toxins such as dioxins are released into the environment and become hazardous to human health.
According to experts, toxic gases emitted by burning plastic materials — dioxins and furans — can cause cancer, impotence, asthma and a myriad other allergies to human beings.
Harare City Council waste management manager Calvin Chigariro said the city was spearheading a pilot recycling centre in Sunningdale where the community would separate their waste at source.
Chigariro said community members would be given the option to separate plastics, aluminium cans and glass bottles.
“Waste management involves five stages, that is, monitoring, collecting, transporting, processing and recycling or disposing. This is aimed at reducing the amount of waste that is generated and taken to the landfill,” he said.
Chigariro said the proceeds from the recycled materials will be channelled towards development projects in the various wards.
Recycle Today chief executive officer Dickson Makombera told the Daily News on Sunday that recycling cans and glass is meant to reduce the burden on council.
He said the materials are exported to South Africa because there are no recycling plants in Zimbabwe.
Makombera said most of their clients are large companies such as Delta Corporation — a beverage company, which offers local and international brands in lager beer, traditional beer, Coca-Cola franchised sparkling and alternative non-alcoholic beverages.
“For glass, we pay $6 per tonne while cans are a lot more expensive at $200 per tonne.
“Our plan is to set up a waste to energy plant were we can buy the materials and turn them into electricity. We want to have a similar model to the Mbare biogas plant,” Makombera said.
He said 70 percent of waste going to Pomona is bio-degradable while 25 percent is recyclable, leaving only five percent of Harare’s waste meant to be at the landfill.
He revealed that the company collects 300 tonnes of cardboard, 60 tonnes of PET bottles, 500 tonnes of glass, and 30 tonnes of cans each month for export to more advanced recycling firms.
The Daily News on Sunday also discovered that garbage scavengers in the impoverished areas are not looking just for re-usable goods among the rubbish but, increasingly, for food to feed their families.
“A lot of scavengers sell recycled food that they segregate from other waste. It’s common practice around here,” said one resident Tsivo Moyo, who has been collecting trash from a fast-food restaurant for the past six years.
Feeling it was wasteful to throw away leftover chicken with some meat remaining, she re-cooks it to feed her children.
“With the kind of life we live, this helps a lot,” she said.
She said none of her three children have become sick from eating recycled food.
When she collects enough, she shares the re-cooked leftovers with some of her neighbours.