I’m sure you’ve picked up on the fact that Senegal is not the most pristine, trash-free places in the world, and that Kaolack is one of the dirtier cities here. Well, I’ve come to terms with all that. The trash in the streets doesn’t even faze me anymore, though I still try not to contribute to it myself. What does faze me is when the trash that I do create gets up and walks around, on display for the whole neighborhood. My host family has a trash bin out front and a trash service that comes often to empty it. About once per month I empty my trash into the bin outside and wait. Within minutes the kids – mostly boys, have picked through it and found the coolest discarded razor or candy wrapper ever! I guess I have to admit that my trash, a lot of it originating in America, is a novelty for them but I almost feel like a patriot act victim having to censor my trash for fear of where it’ll end up. Village volunteers have it even worse because villagers are exposed to less and everything WILL end up in a kid’s mouth; wrappers, batteries, you name it. Because of this most village-based volunteers burn their trash because it’s just easier not to have to worry about it. But maybe I’m making too much of this, maybe trash is the next coolest toy and American kids will even catch on.
Some other volunteers are actually working on a solid waste disposal project at their site, it’s one of the biggest peace corps projects in Senegal right now. Doing research for the project one of them took a trip to Senegal’s largest landfill and came back with some interesting information. Even though there is no official recycling program in Senegal, probably about 98% non-organic solid waste gets recycled. This is possible because people seldom throw away something that can be reused but for the stuff that does get thrown out, there are people that scavenge through the trash at every step to find stuff they could clean up and sell. This includes plastic bottles, old shoes, anything glass… really everything except the organic stuff like food scraps (that also gets picked through by animals) and used batteries. The part that might be hard for westerners to get over is how this is done. People actually live in the landfill and to earn their living, pick through the trash and sell it to be reused. I can’t help but think that this unofficial recycling program works much better than the official ones in place in the US.