Mbeubuess Landfill

Cows eat the trash and we eat them. Go figure… Image was captured by a camera suspended by a kite line. Kite Aerial Photography (KAP) (Photo by Jeff Attaway)

Mbeubeuss stretches over expansive rolling land that once swelled with a water source for Dakar but has since dried up.  Whether intentional or not, the acres and acres of land from the suburbs to the sea are man-made, of garbage.

If the sight of tons and tons of garbage entering Mbeubeuss each day, harmful waste, and deserted recyclable items among the refuse is not enough to impact newcomers, the rather toxic fumes compound your nostrils and skull with each harsh inhaled breath.  The vision of Mbeubeuss, lends people a glass in which to see the social history of garbage management and the cycle of waste management crises that plague the inhabitants of Mbeubeuss as well as citizens of Dakar.

As a deadline looms when Mbeubeuss will be shut down, a solution of a new dump opening in Mbour does not ease minds but causes worry-mending of the waste “management” system should be at the forefront as talks to improve this system need to commence and looking at other country’s systems is one way to do so.

Senegal and most exclusively, Dakar, have been overcome with the cycle of garbage crises that plague the public and hold them “captive to their own waste.”  These crises can be seen not only as chaotic periods where structural adjustment is crucial but progressive movements towards social, political, and economic equilibrium.

The management of waste and garbage of a developing country like Senegal can be inquired by looking at the country’s current state, postcolonial urban condition, and the political economy of development.  The collection process of garbage is one to be analyzed as it involves the youth movement Set/Setal yet in contrast the trash worker union movement that caused chaos together in itself.

The garbage predicament of today can be linked to the “youth activities” of yesterday. Strikes are called by the trash workers’ unions where many are not paid for months.  Acting against the state is defended by the politicians’ oppression and the spiritual value of the “purification” of public space.   Like many things in Senegal, with trash management, there is an “informal” and “formal” and even personal responsibility of one’s trash is taken into debate.

Garbage management also contends on cultural identities and references points of Islam, generation, gender, and spatial neighborhoods that provide organizing platforms to understand economic forces.

To some international environmentalists, “the story of garbage in Dakar is the story of World Bank and IMF structural adjustment policies, of international companies, and the hopeful imaginaries, and aspirations of those striving to assert their right to more than just the dregs of the global economy.”  But its more than corrupt policies; the differential social actors within this garbage crisis implicates the social relations changing within neighborhoods, city, and state and through Mbeubeuss and the garbage pouring in every day, a lens is open to the landscape of democracy and citizenship of Senegal.

John Atherton.jpg
(Photo by John Atherton)

Urban planning experts from different parts of the world have been brought to Dakar to reveal the future possibilities of Mbeubeuss and following landfills.  At the forefront of communication and problem solving is encouraging environmentalism and the safety of health and food.  Urban agriculture becomes a necessity in a growing population and changing dynamic climate.

Also, a sustainable and productive approach to planning is needed.  Design alternatives to the surrounding neighborhoods of Mbeubeuss and the land itself include: “adding food producing layer around the houses to protect from sun and improve control of natural light and ventilation.  Rooftop gardens enabling families to earn money for food by selling surpluses.  And separation of chickens, goats and humans would create a safe distance from dangerous health factors.”

Years ago, it was discovered that soil contamination extended 50 meters outside the dump which meant any food or livestock feeding of that land was unhealthy.  Installing public taps for accessible drinking water will benefit those who currently reside among the trash.  It can be pointed out that Mbeubeuss is a toxic wasteland yet also a source of valuable employment for many.

Over 3,500 people use Mbeubeuss to make a living every day and this does not include the livelihood of those families residing in shacks made from refuse.  By encouraging the government to see and use these people as not only salvagers and recyclers but resources: placing them in various depots throughout Dakar where people bring their trash before it arrives at the dump.

Separation could be done before Mbeubeuss which would provide and maintain employment and be an easier transition for those salvagers who rely on the dumpsite.  For an international program to work and survive, the confidence of the community and public must be maintained and nourished.  No progress will be made if you enter a situation with one plan only and no one else’s.  Public forums must be developed to encourage community solutions that can be supported and voiced.

The United States has a set of Federal Landfill standards which they keep in order to manage the amount of waste being added, how it is collected, and that it is in a controlled and harmless way.  It is no question that Americans have more trash than other global citizens-yet we are mostly conscious of this fact and so are more likely to use systems such as donating, composting, recycling and reusing to combat our problems.

Systems in America are constantly kept in check by standards-whether it be education system, health systems, or even government- regulations keep things in check to maintain services.

The Federal Landfill Standards of the U.S. include location restrictions – build suitable areas away from faults, wetlands, flood plains, etc, liners– plastic sheets or geomembranes reinforced with two feet of clay on the bottom, operating practices– compacting and covering waste with soil to reduce odor, control insects, rodents, and little and to protect public health, groundwater monitoring– testing groundwater to insure that waste has not seeped from the landfill, closure and post closure carecovering landfills and providing care for closed ones, corrective action– correcting landfill releases if any, and financial assurance-providing environmental protection funds after landfill closure

Though some standards may be over the top and are constricting to how things are run, Senegal is in need of some sort of guideline for Mbeubeuss or the next landfill sight so that the environment is protected and public health insured.

Also unlike Mbeubeuss where all different types of trash end up in the same place, different trash ends up in different processing, dump sights: Bioreactor Landfills for organic waste, Combustion and Incineration by burning can convert water into steam to fuel heating systems, Industrial Waste Landfills for nonhazardous industrial waste.  Currently the Landfill Methane Outreach program is also working to prevent emissions of methane and promoting the use of it as a renewable energy source. These different programs and sights may be the key to a “Mbeubeuss” reform.

Waste Management is a company headquartered in Houston, Texas, that is responsible for the waste and “environmental” services of North America.   It also prides itself in being the largest waste recycler and leader in waste-based energy technologies.  Its entire process and system of waste management is transforming the waste of 20 million customers into useable resources with environmentally sound management.

Though these are all claims that “Waste Management” makes, citizens, state governments, and outside organizations keep a watch dog approach to them.  Mbeubeuss is just one landfill sight and Waste Management has 273 Active Municipal Solid Waste Landfills, 5 of which are active hazardous waste landfills, taking care to keep harmful chemicals from seeping into the agriculture and water system.

Our time at Mbeubeuss was an intense experience for all involved and an example of how progress, development, and solutions must be made to benefit the people of Mbeubeuss and Senegal in general.  Stepping down from the bus, the more unwelcoming thing than the smell that knocked students over with an unrestrained power were the constant glares and shouts from the inhabitants.

Toting cameras and bewildered expressions, we looked like complete outsiders and were assumed to be government officials, ready to rip away the only life “benefits” these people had.  Moving deeper into the mass of waste, cautiously stepping on junk that we knew would be used as one person’s income, the people became friendlier, inviting us into their homes, but our uneasiness continued.

As outsiders, it was necessary to see where the garbage we have been contributing to the last four months has been going.  But Mbeubeuss needs more than visitors asking questions and taking pictures.  It’s a place and community that need open dialogue and suggested solutions put into action sooner rather than later.


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