My #trashchallenge in Ouagadougou

Achille in the place, before cleaning it

What is the #trashchallenge about?

Since few days, a new challenge went viral on internet by increasingly pushing thousands of people into hunting garbage in public places worldwide. This is the #trashtag or the facebook #trashchallenge which started with a Facebook post by a certain Byron Romàn. On a first picture, we see a young man sitting on a chair in the middle of dozens of rubbish. The other shot, attached below, shows the individual standing in the same place. Except that all plastic bags and other bottles have disappeared and been picked up and then compacted in trash bags. The user accompanies the editing of a message: “Here’s a new #challenge for you, bored kids. Take a picture of a place that needs cleaning or maintenance, then take a picture after doing something about it and post it. Join the cause. “

Being a simple, basic and accessible challenge to take up, this actually inspired many web users. They just have to find a public place full of trash made by human being and shoot it. In group or alone, they must then bring few garbage bags, pick up all the garbage, make a new photo and post it online with the hashtag #TrashChallenge. What is interesting in doing this is not only cleaning the place but it is also showing the example to encourage other users to do the same. More importantly, by participating in the movement, we are all contributing to raise our communities awareness on litter and plastic pollution.

The situation of trash management policies in Burkina Faso

Ouagadougou is the capital of Burkina Faso. It is the administrative, communications, economic and cultural centre of the country. With a population of 2,200,000 in 2015, Ouagadougou the largest city of Burkina with an area of ​​52,000 ha is two and a half times Paris.

Formally, the garbage (household and industrial solid garbage) management system in the city of Ouagadougou is articulated as follows:

- The pre-collection phase (1): which is about collecting garbage in streets and at households using carts and tractors and transporting them to ‘collection centers’. There is at least one collecting center per district.

- The Collection phase (2): this refers to the transportation of rubbish from collection centers to the Technical Landfill Center outside the city.

- The treatment (3) of the waste is then carried out at the Technical Landfill Center where the organic waste is composted and other waste buried in cells also called OM cells.

The city of Ouagadougou developed a Plan for waste management which resulted in the subdivision of the city of into twelve (12) garbage collection areas, with 35 transit centers, and the construction of a Waste Treatment and Recovery Center (CTVD) in April 2005. Thanks to a recent sanitation project targeting the peripheral areas of Ouagadougou, 21 new landfill cells in the waste treatment and recovery center have been built between 2018–2019. Each cell has an absorption capacity of 28,000 tonnes of waste. The lifespan of these cells is estimated at around fifteen years.

Despite these efforts, waste management remains a tricky issue for governments, mayors and other community leaders in charge of public management. Indeed, the issue is at several levels:

a. The poor understanding by the majority of Burkinabè populations of the importance to manage waste through the way of buying, sorting, collection and treatment. More importantly, the daily use of plastic in the Burkinabè people habits has reached an alarming point. In streets, at home, in supermarkets and shops, the drinking water is packed and sold into ‘plastic bags’ called ‘sachet water’. Plastic bags are also used for shopping either at supermarkets or in informal street markets. Consequently, huge amounts of plastic out of use are thrown in the nature because the production is by far higher than the absorption system. Despite the existing collection system, many of households still don’t have the habit to collect their garbage which tends to make difficult the work of collectors.

b. The lack of space mostly for the collection phase in town

The number of collection centers as well as their locations did not grow proportionally to the density of population and the urbanisation rate. At the same time, the way of buying evolved towards the use of plastic as a mass market product. Hence, it is now challenging to find an empty garbage bin or at least some place identified as a ‘collection centers’.

c. The lack of deep innovative skills locally to recycle, reuse or transform the garbage

The last few years, the Burkinabè environmental policies tended to limit significantly the import of plastic bags and its use in the daily way of buying. Some of the methods include a collecting system by the government through the purchase of used plastic bags. This incited people to clean their communities.

In the manufacturing sector, the range of recycled products is wider. Plastic bags are reused in the handcraft, the weaving, etc. Old tires are transformed into nice paintings, seats, tables, etc. But the transformation level remains weak compared to developed countries. We think that sorting waste which consists of separating glass, plastic, paper and organic waste is the biggest challenge and the core of the garbage management issue. And there is also something to do with how to change mentalities.

Despite everything, it’s worth trying something should we be alone or in group. Here is where the #trashchallenge becomes interesting to conduct.

The story of my #trashchallenge

Having seen how the hashtag went viral online, I decided to try it in the city of Ouagadougou. I choose a strategic place which is located in a well-known business area of Ouagadougou called ‘Zone d’Activités Diverses (ZAD)’. It is also in the opposite side of a nice restaurant frequented by students whose Business school is perceptible just few meters away. The area is very lively as people come evenings for jogging after work. Some also come frequently to exercise on driving cars. Despite the crowd listed, the place has been progressively full of garbage and plastic bags in full view of everyone. I started buying materials, finding teammates and cleaning the place on 13rd March 2019. We tried to separate plastic bags. We worked on daytime in plain view of passers-by. It was interesting because one of them, a traveling salesman was attracted so he joined us to help. The day after when the place was clean, we went to take photos and we surprisingly found some businessmen who parked their big cars there. We waited that they leave before continuing.

Achille in the place, before cleaning it
Achille in the same place, after cleaning it

In summary, the activity was a challenge for me for different reasons:

- Trash is always seen as ‘dirty’, ‘harmful’, ‘unhealthy’. Being in contact with unknown debris could be dangerous. So the first thing to do was finding the ways to keep myself in security while conducting the activity.

- Most of people use to have a negative perception towards trash collectors. It’s then challenging to pick up garbage in a public place especially when you are alone. For my case, I worked with 3 other people.

- Finding a ‘collection center’ was not difficult as one was located nearby. It was full but we managed to sort it out.

By initiating and conducting this symbolic activity, I aimed to raise my community awareness on the crucial need to be environment friendly by managing our garbage. It was a challenge which was really nice and necessary to take up.

Let’s keep the run-up flow!

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Mandela Washington Fellow, for Young African Leaders — Civic engagement — Development Cooperation, Economist, Project Management skills, Free learner

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Achille Sawadogo

Achille Sawadogo

Mandela Washington Fellow, for Young African Leaders — Civic engagement — Development Cooperation, Economist, Project Management skills, Free learner

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