>Thursday – Transit Sites #sierraleone

>Here’s a retrospective look at the week we spent in Sierra Leone. A blow by blow account of each day. As you might expect, that’s going to involve a lot of looking at rubbish!

Day one, Thursday saw us meeting with the Chief Administrator of Freetown City Council (FCC), Bowenson Philips and put together an idea of what we would look at for the rest of the week. We spent some time with Freetown’s elected members and then we headed off to learn about how a city of 2.5m deals with the rubbish it produces.

Waste is once again the responsibility of FCC. For the last few years the issue of waste was handled by an independent, arms length company created by the World Bank called Freetown Waste Management Company (FWMC). Now that the direct involvement of the World Bank has come to an end without FWMC being in a position to operate independently it has been brought back ‘in-house’ (although the noises from FCC suggested they were in favour of returning to a commissioned service as soon as possible). Donald Tweed, the head of FWMC, took us to see how things worked. The first things we saw were two ‘transit sites’.

These are places in the city which are agreed points for dumping garbage. The council’s ‘fleet’ of waste compactor lorries then roams the streets of the city (almost continuously) going from transit site to transit site where it is then transferred from its holding bays into the back of the lorries. When they’re full they go to one of two dumps to be emptied.

Essentially this means that all waste is handled three times. You have those who are collecting waste from households, or businesses, or stall holders. Some of those are employees of FWMC, some are social entrepreneurs whose payment comes from those whose waste they collect. Either way their rubbish is dumped at these 40 odd transit sites. Freetown Waste Management Company then come along, empty the transit sites onto the ground, and shift it all into the back of the waste compacting vehicles.

FWMC had enjoyed working with the youth enterprises that were collecting waste and had provided them with the yellow carts you can see in the videos and the pictures. However, some of them had begun taking payment from householders to collect waste but were then choosing to dump it wherever they liked rather than at the transit sites. As a result FWMC were collecting the carts back in (and you can see evidence of this at the works yard).

Immediately we came up against the difficulties Freetown faces in getting waste off the streets. Although there was some evidence of sorting pretty much all the waste is lumped together. This includes medical waste as well as the high proportion of organic material sent to landfill. The strain this places on the city is compounded by a lack of vehicles to service a city of this size. In Hull, we have about 60 of these vehicles for 117,000 households all of whom receive a doorstep collection. Freetown has 10, not all of which work. Moreover, they’re lorries designed for door to door collection and that’s not really what Freetown needs.

Ideas were already forming about how processes might be improved. One of the suggestions was that it would be possible to increase the speed with which waste was collected by using front loading vehicles like the one picture above. However, it may well speed up the collection of waste and reduce the number of staff required but vehicles like that cost in excess of £100,000.

About Benjamin Welby

Hi, I'm Benjamin Welby. I'm a displaced northerner currently living in Croydon, I church with a group of Christians who meet in a Soho nightclub on Wednesdays and I support Bradford City. I've an academic background in History, Politics and International Development. I work for the Government Digital Service but I left my heart in local government. This blog is infrequently updated and may feature any, all or none of these things...