In Kinshasa, city dwellers tackle the immense challenge of sanitation

Neither the storm nor the torrents of mud stop the garbage collectors in their frantic race behind the “rickshaws”. Carts that they empty as soon as they can, before filling them again. The Saio district is home to one of the many illegal dumps in Kinshasa, where all kinds of waste pile up. At the top of the hill of rubbish, about twenty people rub shoulders with white herons, scavengers who feed on the rubbish of the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

For some bare feet and hands, gleaners are looking for plastic bottles. In the middle of this vast cesspool, Chris proudly displays full bags. “With my colleagues, we gathered 12 packs of 100 kg in two days”, rejoices this 24-year-old daily who, with his four friends, will sell each of these parcels for a little more than 33 euros to Clean Plast, a private recycling company.

Plastic then glitter

Founded in 2018, the company is located in one of the industrial zones near the city center of the megalopolis. Along the avenue of “heavy goods”, the chimneys of the largest factories in Kinshasa let out their black smoke. Behind the Clean Plast portal, a van unloads the collected plastic directly onto a scale. It will then be weighed, sorted, washed and crushed. “We resell the glitter to Indian and Lebanese companies in particular. With, they make tables, chairs, basins, objects that we buy also here, all over the country ”, explains Alexander Bamanisa, founder of Clean Plast, which ultimately aims to “To manufacture these products himself”. Under the watchful eye of the Indian foreman, the Congolese workers operate the machines which shred old cans.

Daily workers of the company Clean Plast, in Kinshasa, November 19, 2021. Clean Plast is positioned as the leading recycling company in the DRC.
In the Clean Plast treatment center, in Kinshasa, DRC, on November 19, 2021.

Since his return to the DRC after his town planning studies in France, Alexander Bamanisa has been convinced that recycling is the future. This entrepreneur from a family of industrialists began by organizing the collection of raw material before embarking on its transformation. “It took nearly two years to obtain approval and a public service delegation: normally the management of sanitation is the responsibility of the State. “ Today, his company works with nearly 3,000 plastic gleaners who go to one of the 16 collection points across the city, most of them adjacent to public waste reception centers.

“We end up with entire districts whose roads are impassable for garbage trucks, without gutters and without dumpsters. »Joël Kyana, town planner

Out of sixty landfills built by the European Union as part of the sanitation support program, which ended in 2015, only ten are still in operation in Kinshasa. In one of them, located in Ngiri-Ngiri commune, women set up tables to serve a local dish, foufou, at lunch break, in the middle of the rubbish. And in the “city”, the immense suburbs of the capital, there is no need to wait for the passage of one of the twenty collection trucks of the Raskin, the municipal sanitation authority. Here, the majority of household waste is collected by informal garbage collectors who pile it up in illegal deposits, in exchange for a few Congolese francs.

“The authorities are observing but not planning anything. We end up with entire districts whose roads are impassable for garbage trucks, without gutters and without dumpsters ”, notes town planner Joël Kyana. “And demographic pressure does not help”, continues the teacher at the Higher Institute of Urban Planning and Architecture. Today, no one knows exactly how many inhabitants there are in the first French-speaking city in the world. Twelve, fifteen, eighteen million or more, the total varies according to the sources. But one thing is certain: the only landfill center available for the 24 municipalities is not enough to swallow the waste of all Kinshasa residents. « Nine thousand tons are produced per day. And we take away less than 10% “, Deplores Germain Mpundu, coordinator of the municipal Kin Bopeto project, of Lingala – the language most spoken in the west of the country – which means” clean Kinshasa “.

This program has so far focused almost exclusively on Gombe, the bustling business center. Every day, the wide crossroads are swept and the sewers are cleaned, but the garbage has still not disappeared from the landscape. Here, the sorting bins installed every hundred meters remain empty and the bottles or cans are thrown on the ground next to them. To change habits, we must “Change mentalities and teach city dwellers to make cleanliness a priority”, urges the official. A task all the more difficult given that Kin Bopeto’s budget, adopted in October 2019, was cut by 30% three months later: because of the Covid-19, the Congolese government reduced all public spending.

Today, local private companies are therefore replacing the State in terms of sanitation. A dozen have embarked on recycling, according to city hall estimates. “There is a real enthusiasm for environmental themes among business creators”, assures Laurianne Kamuyi, a Congolese woman sensitized to this issue during her studies in South Korea. In 2015, when she was about to return to spend her vacation in the DRC, the young woman was arrested by the Korean police. “I was told: ‘Madam, you are a repeat offender!’ At first I thought it was a bad joke. I was told that I hadn’t sorted my trash correctly for a year! And I had to pay over $ 1,000 in fines [soit près de 900 euros]», she says. After this shock, the idea of ​​changing things in her country never left her.

Privatize collection

On this November morning, the graduate in human resources management is preparing to present her waste sorting and collection project in front of an audience of Belgian investors in Silkin Village, one of the start-up incubators in the capital. “I am the only Congolese woman to undertake in this sector”, she claims from the start of her intervention. Its objective is to raise as much funds as possible to expand its ambitions.

In Kinshasa, DRC, November 21 and 17, 2021: on the left, view of the Makelele river on avenue OUA, a point frequently submerged during the rainy season due to the accumulation of plastic waste. On the right, view of the Boulevard du 30 Juin from the central station.
The Funa-Yolo river at its connection to the Congo River in Kinshasa-Gombe, DRC, on November 19, 2021.

In January 2019, Laurianne Kamuyi launched her first initiative at Camp Riche, a popular area of ​​the city. Supported by a dozen garbage collectors, she went door to door and convinced more than 200 families to subscribe to her private service. “At the beginning, we offered compensation to motivate them to sort and then, gradually, the practice took hold”, she congratulates herself. A larger program, with the objective of retaining 1 million households by 2023, will be launched next January: home collection of garbage, already sorted, for 1 dollar per month. An offer well below the current market since the Kinshasa people spend an average of 10 dollars per month for sanitation services, according to a study carried out by the Pyramide Business firm for the governorate of the agglomeration.

The entrepreneur thus intends to boost the circular economy in the sector by responding to the demand of local recyclers. “We can easily supply them in glass, plastic or cardboard. ” For the moment, these companies do not have access to the raw material since the waste is scattered in the immense capital.

This article was produced in the framework of a partnership with the Veolia Institute.

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In Kinshasa, city dwellers tackle the immense challenge of sanitation