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Mali's Capital Has Recycling Woes

Mali's capital, Bamako, faces a worsening recycling problem, with bottles and plastic bags becoming more popular -- and more polluting. The government is doing little to solve the problem, which activists say poses a serious health problem. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from Bamako, the capital of one of the world's poorest countries.

Used plastic bags and empty bottles lie in many parts of Bamako. Plastic bags are being used for everything, including selling water and hot food.

There are maybe just a handful of trash cans in all of Bamako, a sprawling city, so, once used, people just drop their plastic bags and let them fly away.

Animals that roam the city often eat these plastic bags and die. Citizens complain the goats, cows, and other animals they keep have died because of this litter problem.

The high usage of plastic bags has also created a huge health hazard for humans.

There is minimal trash collection here. The government supplies a few donkeys, and a few teams go out in the mornings to collect trash to dump it off at a few sites in the city. But it seems like just a drop in the big litter box that Bamako is becoming.

Market women gather here and do their own recycling. They will sell food and water from these plastic bags they recovered from trash.

There is also bottle recycling that takes place. Ichiaka used to be a shepherd, but he says he makes more money now. He makes daily trips on his bike to collect bottles, and when he resells them to market wholesalers, he makes a few cents on each bottle. He deals in both water bottles and acid bottles.

The head of a Malian consumer's association, Hortense Coulibaly, is devastated, by both the problem and the response.

"I must say this kind of initiative, we are a little afraid of. Certain bottles must not be used to put in things to eat, or else if these are used over and over, they carry diseases. I have had information from the World Health Organization in Bamako, which told me repeated use of plastic bottles can even lead to cancer. After a while, it becomes chemical and very dangerous. But it is a big problem in Bamako; we explain over and over about the danger of plastic bottles and plastic bags, but no one seems to listen.

She says there is a lack of sensitivity to both the pollution problem and the subsequent health hazards. There are departments in different government ministries supposed to tackle the problem, but little is being done. Coulibaly adds politicians do not feel concerned, since they do not have to live among the trash as poor people do.

In one popular neighborhood, Faladje, though, her association has helped a small group organize a very serious-looking and effective trash collection. They were able to get government funding and tractors for this.

They go out every morning, making a few parts of Bamako, at least, a little cleaner and healthier.