Kenya dump dwellers re­cy­cle hair ex­ten­sions

Lesotho Times - - Africa -

NAIROBI, Kenya — In one of Africa’s largest dumps, some res­i­dents are mak­ing a liv­ing by col­lect­ing and re­cy­cling hair from moun­tains of rub­bish.

Nairobi’s Dan­dora Mu­nic­i­pal Dump­site stretches as far as the eye can see. It was de­clared full in 2001 but has re­mained ac­tive, with 850 to 1,500 tons of waste ar­riv­ing every day. Kenya last month im­ple­mented a ban on plas­tic bags, a ma­jor con­trib­u­tor to the tow­er­ing piles of trash.

Many en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists have cam­paigned for years to have the dump shut down, call­ing it an eye­sore and a haz­ard. But for thou­sands of Kenyans, the dump is their means of ex­is­tence.

Win­nie Wan­jira, 31, has spent her whole life at the dump, one of an es­ti­mated 6,000 peo­ple mak­ing their liv­ing by scav­eng­ing in the rub­bish. Some peo­ple raise pigs on the or­ganic waste, while oth­ers find items to sell.

Wan­jira has tapped into the multi-bil­lion­dol­lar global hair care in­dus­try, buy­ing hair ex­ten­sions col­lected by young boys in the dump and then sell­ing it to beauty sa­lons for a small profit.

You can get lucky and find un­used hu­man hair,” she says. “Maybe some­one bought it and wasn’t sat­is­fied with it, maybe the color, then they threw it away.” Of the dif­fer­ent types of hair ex­ten­sions, hu­man hair is the most cov­eted for its soft­ness and ver­sa­til­ity. The ris­ing de­mand in Africa and else­where has coun­tries such as In­dia, China and Brazil com­pet­ing for the biggest share of the mar­ket.

Much of the re­cy­cled hair is sold to hair­dressers in Koro­go­cho, a slum across the river from the dump. Dozens of women have set up makeshift hair sa­lons in the lo­cal mar­ket. In a back al­ley in Koro­go­cho, 29-year-old

Mary Wan­jiku washes the hair she re­cently bought. She uses de­ter­gent to wash and rinse it, some­times ap­ply­ing oil and per­fume.

“Af­ter we get the hair from the dump­site we usu­ally sort them out and pick the good ones,” Wan­jiku says. She has been a hair­dresser in Koro­go­cho for nearly 10 years. Busi­ness can be slow — she av­er­ages seven cus­tomers a week — as she com­petes with more than 30 other stalls lined with hun­dreds of hair­pieces.

But she is happy to be work­ing there and says us­ing hair from the dump makes a lot of busi­ness sense.

“We pre­fer to use those be­cause they are cheap and easy to get be­cause of close prox­im­ity, in­stead of those from the cen­tral busi­ness dis­trict that are ex­pen­sive and also far away,” she says.

Wan­jiku says she doesn’t go out of her way to tell cus­tomers where the hair comes from. But she says many know and are happy that the hair has been suf­fi­ciently cleaned and is more af­ford­able than hair in town, where a good weave can go for up to 50,000 Kenyan shillings ($485). A weave in Koro­go­cho can go for around 600 shillings ($6).

One reg­u­lar cus­tomer, 25-year-old house­wife Ruth Njeri, says she has been com­ing to the salon since 2013.

She knows that the hair comes from the dump but says the ben­e­fits out­weigh the neg­a­tives.

“They have good prod­ucts that have a va­ri­ety of col­ors and tex­ture,” she says. “You get to choose what you want, some you can wash. Yeah, they are just good.” — AP

Win­nie Wan­jira is of­fered hair pieces to buy by a man who col­lects them from the piles of rub­bish, at the Dan­dora mu­nic­i­pal dump­site in nairobi, Kenya.

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