For the past few weeks, I have been accompanying FUNDSAZURZA in its various solid waste management operations. This blog post will describe FUNDSAZURZA’s organizational history and will also detail my observations of the organization’s main operations: Street Sweeping, Cart Collection, Truck Collection, Transfer Station, Recycling Collection, and Recycling Center.
In the late 1990s1, the National District municipality of Greater Santo Domingo did not offer solid waste management services in Zurza nor in surrounding informal neighborhoods. Trash piled in the streets and became breeding grounds for rats and mosquitos, provoking higher incidents of disease and infant mortality2. Community members protested these conditions and led general strikes to pressure the city to provide solid waste services3. However, the municipality was not convinced to provide such services until the emergence of FUNDSAZURZA in 2003 and their solid waste management proposals4.
FUNDSAZURZA began collecting solid waste with only two hand pushed carts5. The organization charged residents a minimal fee to pay the solid waste collectors and program coordinators volunteered their time. Various non-governmental organizations provided initial support to grow the microbusiness into a full-fledged not-for-profit providing solid waste service to the entire Zurza community. Domestic and international NGOs provided technical, material, and financial support to build the organizational and operational capacity of FUNDSAZURZA. Now, the National District municipality pays FUNDSAZURZA $25 per ton of solid waste collected from residents.
The spatial location of the Zurza neighborhood impacts solid wastes management operations. Zurza is home to a large fruit, vegetable, and home goods market. The market is very busy with trucks, motorcycles, and pedestrians navigating the main market street, which is crowded with stalls and agricultural products that spill out into the street. Two dead-end roads large enough for automobiles spur off of the market street into the neighborhood of Zurza. Off of these two roads are a dense web of alleys and staircases that lead to housing and small businesses.
Around 8 a.m. every Monday through Saturday, six street sweepers and one supervisor hit the streets of Zurza. The team serves three purposes—to clean up litter, to clean up leftover debris from truck collection, and to collect recyclable plastic bottles. The street sweepers focus on the two major streets and the agricultural products market area. Littering is prevalent amongst residents and market vendors necessitating that the street sweepers clean up the same areas daily. In addition, as the street sweepers push waste into piles or load into containers, they separate plastic bottles for recycling collection. The solid waste is left in piles in particular areas for collection by compactor trucks.
Street sweeper in the Zurza market. Photo by Brent Perdue.
Two teams of four cart collectors and one supervisor navigate the narrow alleys and steep staircases of Zurza’s primarily residential areas. The collectors push steels carts as far as the narrow alleys will permit and leave the carts in strategic spots. From there, the collectors walk house to house to collect solid waste from residents and small businesses. Most houses and businesses are ready for collection and store their bagged solid waste in a specific spot and container. The collectors load the carts to the brim, using found pieces of wood to create improvised cart wall extensions. Once full, the collectors push the carts to a specific collection point on the major streets. If a collection truck is available, the collectors load the waste directly into the truck. But, often, the collectors resort to unloading onto the ground for truck collection at a later time.
Pushcart full of trash. Photo by Brent Perdue.
FUNDSAZURZA owns six collection trucks and contracts with another ten private operators to collect waste from dump sites. Residents, businesses, and the cart collection workers dump solid waste at particular points along the two dead-end and market roads. Some of the trucks have hydraulic compaction, allowing for up to three tons of solid waste to be loaded and transported. Other trucks have flatbeds where solid waste is piled. The truck collectors get the earliest start on the day around 5:30 a.m. to minimize traffic delays. One employee drives, while two other men ride on the back of the truck to load bagged solid waste and then shovel remaining loose trash into the truck.
Workers loading into compactor truck. Photo by Brent Perdue.
Once the collection trucks are full, the collection trucks head to the solid waste transfer station. All five community foundations utilize the transfer station that was built specifically for their use with funds from the European Union. Trucks weigh-in on an electronic scale and then often queue in substantial lines before unloading. The trucks dump the waste into larger tractor trailers that are parked at a lower elevation. Compactor trucks can dump mechanically, but flatbed trucks must be unloaded by hand. Informal waste pickers search the waste tipping floor for recyclable materials as trash is being dumped.
Tractor trailer loaded with solid waste at transfer station. Photo by Brent Perdue.
In addition to recovering recyclables in other areas of operations, FUNDSAZURZA collects separated-at-origin recycling, primarily plastic bottles. A team of six women collect recycling house by house every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. The team services one sector of Zurza that has received recycling education and outreach. FUNDSAZURZA leadership informed me that their recycling operations are not very profitable, in large part due to the low commodity price of plastic. However, FUNDSAZURZA views recycling, as well as reduction and reuse, as part of their larger environmental education mission. Indeed, I found the recycling collection operation to be very sociable, which created opportunities for one-on-one solid waste management discussions.
Recycling collection from local resident. Photo by Brent Perdue.
All five community foundations bring their recyclable materials to a recycling center located underneath a major bridge. The space was donated to the foundations by the National District municipality. The foundations primarily recycle plastic bottles, but do process some cardboard, mixed paper, and aluminum cans. Four workers and one supervisor operate this facility eight hours a day, Monday through Saturday. The community foundations drop off bags of recycling, which is typically sorted into recycling material type. If not separated, the workers break open bags onto a sorting table to manually separate recyclables by material type. Then, the workers make bales with a hydraulic baler for storage and eventual transportation to a recyclable material buyer.
Recycling baler. Photo by Brent Perdue.
The elements of solid waste management operation may seem rudimentary, but these processes are fundamental to keeping communities clean for the benefit of public health and environmental quality. FUNDSAZURZA has adapted some best solid waste management practices to their particular spatial geography, built environment, and social context. However, I observed some areas for improvement, such as a need for more plastic bags for collection and reducing the amount of double-loading of solid waste. My final blog post will provide an overview of my consultation report about these areas of improvement for FUNDSAZURZA’s consideration.
Edited by: Marcos Duran and Joel Dishman[show_hide title=”Footnotes”]
1Mendoza, Nicolas (2014). Decentralization of planning in the Dominican Republic under neoliberalism and the role of civil society. Planning Theory & Practice, Vol. 15, No. 4, 565-588.
2Mendoza, Nicolas, Planning Director, FUNDSAZURZA (2016). Interview with Author. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
5Most of the information in this paragraph derived from: Candelario, Juan, Vice President, FUNDSAZURZA (2016). Interview with Author. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.