Saturday, September 8, 2012

Endless Trash

Waste disposal is a huge problem here; trash cans are often non-existent and littering is completely normal. Sewage, garbage, recyclables, food scraps - too often they wind up strewn about on the ground, waiting to be swept up and burned or washed away by rain or just left there forever.

Trash on a beach in St Louis

A typical debris-filled drainage ditch in Dakar
In the U.S. people produce a truly astounding amount of garbage on any given day, but for the most part it's quickly whisked off, to landfills or barges or processing centers or treatment plants, and we don't have to look at it. In Senegal everyone has to look at it. Pretty much all the time.

When I first arrived here the sheer volume of trash was one of the most striking things about the city-scape. When I travel around the country I still get hung up on how much garbage I see by the roadside, on the outskirts of towns, and just generally strewn around on the ground.

One of Dakar's many refuse-strewn lots
Batteries, old clothes, corn cobs, broken shoes, cardboard boxes, empty bottles, old notebooks, used-up pens, animal bones, mango peels, burnt-out light bulbs, candy wrappers, an ocean of plastic bags; anything you could use or grow or buy and then throw away is piled in the great swaths of refuse fanning out around the cities, towns and villages.

A village garbage pile in a field

Litter in a village creek bed

Rubble in a village ravine
People nonchalantly toss wrappers out car windows and drop soda cans right in the gutter without a second glance. For someone coming from a part of the world where littering is not only illegal but considered morally reprehensible, this is profoundly unsettling. It's awkward to watch. When there isn't a wastebasket handy (which is almost always) and no one to come by and empty a wastebasket anyway it's hard to argue with. It's a complicated problem and is difficult to change, but there are many people, PCVs and Senegalese, trying to do just that, with Sanitation Committees and public awareness campaigns and designated trash collection and burning areas.

Trash on a village path
At the end of the day all of this really, really makes a person appreciate the often unrecognized value of well-enforced anti-dumping laws, all that chiding about putting things in the proper bin, and access to an efficient garbage collection service.

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