- Tired of the demeaning names, a team of 15 plastic bottle collectors sat down and discussed ways of breaking the poverty chain
Dar es Salaam. It was what one would call ‘a marriage of convenience’ that brought 15 people together in an endeavor to earn a living through collecting and selling waste plastic bottles for recycling.
At first, they could collect the bottles individually and sell them to an entrepreneur who owned a factory that ground them into very small particles for export.
Life was difficult. A kilogramme of waste plastic bottles was sold for only Sh50. “It was really tough, and we were called all sorts of demeaning names in the streets,” says Christopher Rugemalira, 60, as he recalls how they used to work 18 years ago.
Tired of the demeaning names, a team of 15 plastic bottle collectors explored ways of breaking the poverty chain.
“We registered our union, Umoja Group Mazingira (UG Mazingira), with the relevant government bodies. Using the registration, we got easy access to official dump-sites and whenever we found people to talk to, we did not hesitate to show them the difference between our job and insanity - which is what some thought we were,” he said.
The Umoja Group - coupled with the coming into the business of other plastic bottle grinders from China - gave them the power to negotiate the price.
“That was in 2006 and the price rose to Sh100 per kilogramme. In 2009, some prominent local companies entered the fray and the price rose to Sh600 per kilogramme of plastic bottles,” he explained.
It was until 2012 that they started doing serious business when some Chinese nationals decided to leave their grinding machine to them (the group) as they (the Chinese) shifted from grinding to buying crushed plastics for export.
“Our machine’s capacity was to grind four tons of plastic bottles per day and we sold the grounded particles to the Chinese people at a price of Sh900,” he said.
The machine, however, was damaged and the production stopped for a while until the members of UG Mazingira decided to contribute some funds from their pockets to buy another processing machine.
With more than 300 members under the leadership of Mr Rugemalira, they bought a used-machine at a price of Sh3 million in 2014.
“The machine is working up to now, processing more than six tonnes of plastic bottles per day,” he states.
The price of ground particles is Sh700 per kilogramme, he says. The Group sells up to 20 tonnes of waste plastic bottles per week.
Their current capital is Sh10 million; but that is largely because they have not been well promoted outside Tanzania.
“We just need support from the government so that we can be recognized and promoted in the international markets. Foreigners are exporting the ground particles and their capitals are huge so the competition becomes unfair,” he noted.
Special areas for recycling industries are another demand for the group to start manufacturing products from the ground particles.
“Our main focus now is to start producing plastic products instead of ending at the processing stage. We can process plastic bottles, plastic blooms and plastic plates,” he said.
The UG Mazingira Group is among 27 waste recycling companies and groups registered in Dar es Salaam.
The city’s Cleaning Officer, Mr Cosmas Mwaitete told The Citizen in an interview at his office that the waste recycling sector was still in its infancy stage.
“We don’t have a specific plan for waste recycling yet. We are working with a Tanzania Public Health Association (TPHA) to provide relevant awareness to the public before pushing the recycling agenda,” he said.
The existing 27 waste recycling companies and groups, he said, were trying their best but not to the full capacities. They were also doing their jobs informally.
The city’s current plan was to collect all the wastes from all sources of garbage, he said.
“We want to legalize the trade and turn waste picking into a formal business. We will train them how to sort. This is to make every single waste that’s produced in the street gets picked and sorted,” he said.
Currently, the city produces 1,100 tonnes of different waste types a day, with 500 tonnes being plastic waste.
The city’s collection capacity stands at 60 to 70 percent of the produced waste, but its plan was to collect more than 90 percent in 2025.
Mr Mwaitete said the city has hired seven contractors, five small collection companies and 10 groups to collect the wastes in all streets.
“The contractors are collecting waste in the city’s Central Business District (CBD) where they use modern tools in the process. Groups and small companies are dealing with wards and streets which are located at the outskirts of Dar es Salaam,” he said.
An environment officer in the ministry of State in the Vice President’s Office (Union and Environment), Dr Hussein Mohamed, said “the best way for the city to be clean is to monetise the waste.
“When people will value the waste as their source of income, it is when residents will not dump their waste in wrong places.
“It will also be easier to waste pickers and sorters to get the relevant waste they want, timely,” he said.
Through the business, he says, the waste producers will get money, the pickers will get some and the government would make good revenues.
“For the 500 tonnes of plastic wastes alone which the city produces every day, they could earn up to Sh175 million, based on the global price for a kilogramme of plastic waste which was sold at $150 in 2019,” he noted.
On average, Tanzania produces between 17 million and 23 million tonnes of different wastes annually, but less than 25 percent of which is recycled.
The country recycles only 20-30 percent of the 150,000 to 300,000 tonnes of the plastic waste produced annually.
At least 25,000 tonnes of electronic wastes (e-wastes) are generated annually; but only two to five percent is recycled.
More than 400,000 tonnes of paper waste are produced yearly, but only 20-30 percent is recycled.
The country produces 25,000 litres of oil waste per year; less than five percent is are recycled.
Tanzania also generates 10,000 tonnes of used batteries annually, but only 30 percent are recycled.
“Recycling technology in handling wastes is too low in the country. Only a few people and companies recycle waste. We (government) have set guidelines as the best method to increase recycling patterns and reduce the trash in our streets and compounds,” Mr Mohamed said.
The government has set guidelines on how the individuals, institutions, organizations and local government authorities can reduce the daily produced wastes.
The guidelines book outlines the duties of the individuals, institutions, organizations and local government authorities on reducing and recycling the daily produced wastes and penalties for those violating them.
The guidelines have already been established and printed under the ministry of State in the Vice President’s Office (Union and Environment) and they are waiting for the relevant minister to sign the document for official launching.