Landfills: A disaster waiting to happen 

Source: Landfills: A disaster waiting to happen | The Sunday Mail

Landfills: A disaster waiting to happenDumpsites have become a common feature in Mbare

Nathan Guma and Nobert Basvi

THE closure of Mbare Musika last year after the introduction of the initial Covid-19-induced lockdown was a serious threat to pushcart operator John Chinyani’s livelihood.

For years, the 32-year-old has lived off moving travellers’ luggage around the popular intercity bus terminus.

When intercity travel was abruptly stopped, so did all economic activity at the rank, and with it Chinyani’s source of income.

Nearly a year after the collapse of his small venture, Chinyani’s enterprise has found a fresh lease of life.

Harare City Council’s challenges in collecting refuse in most suburbs, including Mbare, has spawned lucrative ventures for young enterprising pushcart operators such as Chinyani.

“I used to be hired by vendors to carry their stock from the food market,” he told The Sunday Mail.

“I also used to move around luggage belonging to travellers, but that all came to an end with the closure of Mbare Musika.

“But when one door closes another one opens.”

Chinyani is now using his ramshackle wagon to ferry uncollected refuse from people’s homes and dumping it at landfills around Mbare.

He charges $60 for a trip to the garbage dump.

An increasing number of wagon operators that used to ply their trade at the bus terminus are joining the evolving trade.

But unbeknown to them, they have become conduits to an emerging environmental disaster.

Their budding enterprises are prompting potentially adverse consequences to the local ecosystem, with garbage landfills now commonplace in the suburb.

Council often goes for weeks without collecting refuse, and now mounds of garbage landfills are fast developing around most suburbs in Harare.

Harare’s refuse collection trucks are often grounded as a result of mechanical breakdowns and fuel shortages.

A refuse collection deal between council and a private company Clean City Africa to collect garbage on behalf of the city has failed to meaningfully serve ratepayers.

City of Harare’s acting spokesperson Mr Innocent Ruwende said the city was ill-equipped to deal with the mounting garbage crisis.

“Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) issued a garnishee order on our bank accounts and we only got control of the accounts recently,” said Mr Ruwende.

Council owed the taxman $118 million.

This toxic cocktail of unfortunate circumstances is brewing a potentially dangerous environmental situation for the city’s ecosystem, experts have noted.

With plastics making up an overwhelming mass of the garbage in urban landfills, environmentalists fear disaster could be lurking.

Harare Institute of Technology (HIT) lecturer and polymer engineer, Mr Innocent Muguti, said plastic waste is damaging the environment.

“Most polymers, including polyethylene and polypropene, are not biodegradable,” he said.

“Micro-organisms cannot break them down, hence they last for years in landfill sites, causing environmental problems such as groundwater contamination and sanitary-related issues.

“Consequently, 60 percent of water pollution is attributable to littering and landfills.”

Plastics, he said, contain toxic constituents such as phthalates, poly-fluorinated chemicals, bisphenol A (BPA), brominated flame retardants and antimony trioxide, which can leach into the ground, posing adverse danger to underground water sources.

Toxic material leaching into underground water sources also endanger human life.

“Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is a type of smooth plastic,” he said.

“It is transparent and relatively thin and is commonly used for juice, vegetable oil, cosmetics, soft drinks, margarine and water bottles production.

“Plastics made from PET leach toxic additives such as acetaldehyde, antimony and phthalates if exposed to sunlight.”

In addition, plastic like Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), which are highly regarded because of their cost, have been reported to cause chronic bronchitis, birth defects, genetic changes, cancer, skin diseases, deafness, vision failure, ulcers, liver dysfunction and indigestion.

Research by Texas Disposal, a US-based waste processing organisation, has concluded that even small items such as cigarette butts can cause extensive damage to the environment.

Cigarette butts contain chemicals such as arsenic and formaldehyde which leach into underground freshwater sources.

Mr Leonard Muyambo, founder of PowerAfrika Labs, an environmental science research institute, said urban rivers have borne the brunt of pollution from illegal waste dumps.

“When landfills are located near drainage systems, all the waste, especially plastic, is washed into rivers, leading to plastic pollution; this happens due to lack of designated dumping sites,” said Mr Muyambo.

“As a result of soaking of the landfills, toxic material leaches underground.

“It becomes a concentrated water system containing toxic components.”

In Mbare, a massive dumping site has emerged a few metres away from two community boreholes in the massively populated Tsiga area.

At the Majubheki flats, a perpetual stream of murky-green effluent flows into a smelly mound of garbage close to homes, attracting all manner of pests.

Used diapers, rotten fruit and disused plastic waste are commonplace.

Worms, flies and maggots constantly feast on rotting fruits and vegetables, making for a fertile breeding ground for diseases.

According to Knowledge Transfer Africa (emKambo), an organisation specialising in gathering data on the Mbare market operations, two five-tonne truck loads of rotten tomatoes and vegetables are dumped every week close to the vegetable market.

This has given rise to a repulsive dump close to the market.

“At least eight tipper-trucks make their way out of the market every week,” said Mr Charles Dewa, the Knowledge Transfer Africa chief executive.

“Some will be sent to Pomona dumping site for disposal. It appears council is no longer collecting waste.”

He said Harare should revive plans to construct a biogas digester close to the market to help arrest the disaster.

The city has for years proposed commissioning a biogas digester to be fed with perishable fruits and vegetables from the market and help generate clean energy for the 56 residential flats in Mbare.

“Efforts were put to create a biogas digester in Mbare, but nothing has been done for years to undertake the project,” said Dewa.