Africa’s solid waste is growing, posing a climate threat

In this photo taken Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, a man walks on a mountain of plastic bottles as he carries a sack of them to be sold for recycling after weighing them at the dump in the Dandora slum of Nairobi, Kenya. (AP)
Updated 09 December 2018
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Africa’s solid waste is growing, posing a climate threat

  • The fastest-growing regions for waste generation are sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where it is expected to triple and double, respectively, by 2050, the World Bank said in a September report

NAIROBI, Kenya: No one would envy a life of scavenging in Kenya’s biggest landfill, but Daniel Kiarie says he would never leave it.
Birds circle overhead and dogs scuffle as the 35-year-old moves through the filth of Nairobi, intent on useful finds. Ground-up garbage, from used hospital needles to battered toys, crunches under his feet. Thirty pungent acres stretch out before him at the center of the city’s poorest slums.
“This is like any other job,” Kiarie said. “I would not leave it for a cozy office.” In blue overalls, he oversees a hill of plastics he has salvaged to sell to recycling companies. “And I am not mad.”
As the world meets again to tackle the growing threat of climate change, Africa expects to suffer the most from rising temperatures. And it is least equipped to fight back.
How the continent will tackle the solid waste produced by its more than 1.2 billion residents, many of them eager consumers in growing economies, is a major question for environmentalists and governments alike.
Most African countries lack the resources needed to process the growing amount of solid waste, said Maria Leonor Sales, a consultant with the African Development Bank. Nearly 20 of the world’s 50 biggest dumpsites are on the continent, according to Waste Atlas.
On top of that, Africa is now a dumping ground for waste from other, often developed, countries, UN Environment pointed out in a report earlier this year.
The fastest-growing regions for waste generation are sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where it is expected to triple and double, respectively, by 2050, the World Bank said in a September report. By then, the regions will be producing 35 percent of the world’s trash.
Much of the waste in low-income countries, about 90 percent, is openly dumped or burned. That contributes to worsening air quality while the poor are most affected, the World Bank said.
The burning of waste is a key contributor to climate change. In 2016, 5 percent of global emissions were generated from solid waste management, excluding transportation, the bank’s report said.
Safe, sustainable solid waste management could be an engine for economic growth, Sales said. Recycling and innovative products could create jobs while addressing social and environmental issues.
But governments would have to sign on and recognize the value of landfill pickers like Kiarie and the roughly 600 others who join him there every day.
“Perceptions are one of the main challenges as people do not view waste as a resource,” said Catherina Schenck, a professor with the University of the Western Cape in South Africa who has researched waste pickers. “This includes the policymakers down to the consumers.”
Transitioning to a greener economy and sustainable waste management will require informal workers like Kiare to become part of a recognized system, following health and environmental guidelines and receiving stable incomes and benefits in return.
Experts say recycling companies then can be more efficient and have a guaranteed supply of raw materials.
Africa has the opportunity to unlock at least $8 billion every year in resource value into the economy by changing the way we think about waste, said Professor Linda Godfrey, an expert on waste management with the South Africa-based Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.
The African Union has said member countries should divert 50 percent of the waste they produce to recycling, reuse and recovery by 2030. Currently, the continent recycles only 4 percent.
Unfortunately, investment in such projects in Africa is still seen as high-risk by the private sector, Godfrey said. She said strong political will is needed.
Kiarie knows the risks of his current work. Landslides in dumps can be deadly. The threat of injury or infection is high. The landfill where he roams, Dandora, was deemed full in 2001. Yet it continues to operate, supporting people from the bottom rungs of Nairobi’s economy.
Kiare’s previous job as a day laborer in construction paid him $5 but he would go without work for long periods, which almost got him evicted. Now he can take home between $10 and $50 a day from recycling. He has moved into a bigger house and is now married with three children.
Most Kenyans, who look down on those who work in the country’s sprawling landfills, live below $2 a day.
“Nowadays I don’t hear from the landlord,” he said.


The scent of soap making returns to Aleppo

Syrian businessman Ali Shami arranges olive soap bars in a factory on the outskirts of Aleppo. (AFP)
Updated 23 March 2019
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The scent of soap making returns to Aleppo

  • Shami carried out limited renovations — just enough to produce more than half of his pre-war output of around 800 tons a year

ALEPPO: After years of war, the scent of laurel oil once again wafts from a small soap workshop in Aleppo, signaling the revival of a landmark trade in the battered northern city.
Surrounding soap workshops in the Al-Nayrab district still lie in ruins, badly damaged in the four-year battle for the former opposition stronghold. But for Ali Shami, hanging up his apron was not an option.
“I never stopped making soap throughout the war — even if it was just a little,” says the 44-year-old, who fled his home city during the fighting.
“But this workshop is special,” he tells AFP. “It was here that I started more than 30 years ago.”
Shami reopened his soap workshop last month after shutting it down in 2012, when Syria’s second city became a main front in the eight-year-long conflict.
The scars of war are still visible on the building, its walls punctured with holes caused by shelling. Rushes of wind gust through the gaps.
Shami carried out limited renovations — just enough to produce more than half of his pre-war output of around 800 tons a year.
He installed a new metal door and refurbished the main rooms where the soap mixture is heated and then poured out to dry.
He watches as five workers stir a thick mixture of olive and laurel oil in a large vat.
Beside them, another five workers slice cooled and hardened green paste into cubes and stack them in staggered racks.
Shami says he was able to resume operations quickly because Aleppo soap is handmade.
Its production “relies on manual labor, a successful mixture, the passion of Aleppo’s residents, and their love of the profession,” he says.
After closing down in 2012, Shami tried to continue his work in other major Syrian cities. “My existence is tied to the existence” of soap, he says.
He moved to the capital, Damascus, and the regime-held coastal city of Tartous, but Shami says the soap was not as good.
“Aleppo’s climate is very suitable for soap production and the people of Aleppo know the secret of the trade and how to endure the hardship of the many stages of its production,” he says.
Shami, who inherited the soap business from his father and grandfather, boasts about the superior qualities of Aleppo soap, the oldest of its kind in the world.
“Aleppo soap distinguishes itself from other soaps around the world as it is made almost entirely of olive oil,” he says.
“European soap, on the other hand, includes animal fats, while soaps made in Asia are mixed with vegetal oils but not olive oil,” he says.
The Aleppo region is well-known for its olive oil and sweet bay oil, or laurel.
Shami says the Aleppo soap industry was hit hard by the fierce clashes that rocked his home city, before ending in late 2016 when the army took back opposition districts with Russian military support.
While conditions are less dangerous today, soap producers still grapple with shortages of raw material and skilled labor, he says.
“We are struggling with the aftermath of the battles,” he says.
Dozens of soap producers are still waiting to complete renovations before reopening their workshops. Hisham Gebeily is one of them.
His soap-making center in the Old City of Aleppo, named after the family, has survived for generations, dating back to the 18th century.
The three-story stone workshop covers a space of around 9,000 square meters, and is considered among the largest in the city.
But the 50-year-old man was forced to close it in 2012.
The structure still stands, although damaged by the fighting: Parts of it have been charred by shelling and wooden beams supporting the roof are starting to fall apart.
“Before the conflict, the city of Aleppo housed around 100 soap factories,” he says.