Communities Field Note: Managing Waste

Pollution and waste management are huge challenges in Tanzania, especially in cities like Dar Es Salaam. Almost everyone litters and there are few recycling programs. It has been getting harder and harder for the government of Tanzania to move the growing amount of trash outside of the cities.

Most Tanzanians, especially in rural areas, get rid of trash by burning it. Driving along the road at night, I usually see burning trash piles and smell thick smoke. In cities like Dar Es Salaam, the government makes an effort to move the trash outside of the city. Outside the city, however, it usually just sits in huge piles and is not processed or taken care of.

As the number of people in Tanzania grows, the trash problem grows, too. It will be interesting to see how Tanzania works to manage its trash and stop pollution in the future!

Are there ways or places to recycle in the local community, and if so, is it easy to access?

Unfortunately, little to no recycling happens in Tanzania. This is a big problem, especially in urban areas, where the only way to get clean water is from a plastic bottle. Thousands of these bottles litter the streets of the city. Sometimes, you will see someone carrying a huge bag collecting the bottles. Then they take them to a small, private recycling company where they can get a little bit of money.

Getting rid of regular trash is hard in the city, too. There are almost no trash cans in the city. Even on campus, I have only seen three or four. When you are outside, it is common to just throw trash on the ground. Could you imagine doing that in the United States?

How do people think about the environment, and do young people think they play a role in protecting the environment?

To me, it seems people have mixed feelings about the environment in Tanzania. It is common for everyone to litter and throw their trash anywhere. On buses, I see people throw water bottles, wrappers, and plastic bags out the window without any second thoughts.

Although this is not good, Tanzanians do not have many other options for ways to get rid of their trash. There are no trash cans in rural areas. There are only a few trash cans in the cities. This is why Tanzanians litter, burn trash, and make trash piles.

Despite these habits many Tanzanians recognize that pollution is bad. Talking to one of my teachers, Paulo, he said, “The city of Dar Es Salaam is very dirty. We need to start taking better care of it.” Lots of my Tanzanian friends feel the same.

There are definitely young people in Tanzania who care about the environment and want to work to protect it. Keeping people healthy is one of the most important things Tanzania needs to do if they want to grow as a nation. Lots of young people know that taking care of the environment and stopping pollution will be important part of keeping everyone healthy.

What solutions do you hear people talking about?

I’ve read in news articles that Tanzania beginning to use solid waste to make energy. This is exciting! This kind of recycling program would help Tanzania to create more energy and dispose of its trash. By using waste to make energy Tanzania, would be able to work on solving two problems at once.

My Tanzanian roommate Winnie says this is a great idea. However, she thinks Tanzania can’t work on projects like it until they improve basic sanitation. Winnie means that the country will have to do simple things like make sure there are enough trash cans before they can do complicated projects. What do you think?

Have there been changes to environmental laws lately?

Unfortunately, the Tanzanian government hasn’t made any big changes in their environmental policies in the past few years. This is probably because the government doesn’t have enough money and resources to put their ideas into action.

The government knows that waste is a growing problem that needs to be fixed soon. All trash is bad for the environment, but some trash is truly dangerous. An example might be used needles from hospitals that could make people sick if they are touched. The government has been talking about ways to get rid of this trash safely.

Who is working on waste management in your community? What can we learn from them?

I’m excited to tell you about a local project called Wonder Workshop. Wonder Workshop is a program that lets people who are disabled from a disease called polio to make art from recycled materials. How cool and creative!

Polio is a disease that is common in Dar Es Salaam. It can hurt your nervous system and keep you from using some of your body parts, like your legs. Because of this, polio patients in the city often have trouble finding work.

Wonder Workshop allows people with polio to come and make art for money. When I went to visit the workshop, they showed me all of the scrap metal, paper and glass bottles they had collected from the streets of the city. After collecting them, they turn these materials into metal sculptures, beads and new paper books for people to buy.

I like Wonder Workshop because it allows people in the city to take control and work to solve their own problems in a creative way. It was encouraging to see how such this group of people could still care about an issue as big as the environment, and want to make a difference. I think we can learn from their persistence and hard work.

Who is working on waste management in your community?

When I asked my roommate Winnie about how different people handle trash she said, “It depends on where you live.” She explained that in rural areas, out in the countryside, not a lot of trash is produced. She said this is because trash comes from a lot of manufactured products like bottles, plastic wrappings and paper that you won’t find in rural areas as much.

Winnie says she thinks it is important for Tanzanians to start changing the way they take care of trash. She tries to be smart about how she gets rid of trash in the dorm. For example, if she has used a huge plastic water jug, she will re-use it instead of tossing it out.

How do you manage your own waste? What are three things you can do to waste less?

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