Sparks

African creative ideas on recycling plastic

 By Eniday Staff

It kind of seems like a paradox: how can Africa, the poorest continent in the world, be drowning in plastic, the material that, often due to some shallowness, has become symbolic of a culture of conspicuous consumption and waste? Maybe there’s more to this story than meets the eye…

There’s no paradox at all. On the contrary, it is the poorest parts of the world where plastic – as useful as it is ubiquitous – ends up scattered everywhere, due to the simple fact that these countries fall short when it comes to organising and managing waste collection. The fact is that the culture of recycling and circularity needs funding and resources, and Westerners often forget to look beyond the end of their noses to see what’s happening in the rest of the world. But when we do look, we discover that other places around the world do not just have mountains of plastic, but also good recycling practices.

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Waste is a major threat to biodiversity, the environment, the economy and health

One hundred percent plastic

In Awassa, Ethiopia, about 250 km south of Addis Ababa, plastic has taken over the volcanic Lake Awassa: hippos swim between floating bottles and fish “survive” on microplastics. In recent years, Awassa has become one of Ethiopia’s major cities, with its industrial park, university, good climate, recently opened airport and the new Addis Ababa – Nairobi motorway fuelling the city’s economic and population growth. This, in turn, has fuelled its plastic problem.
However, an NGO called CIFA Onlus has been running a project for several years to benefit Awassa. The “One hundred percent plastic” project aims to bring separated waste collection of plastic to the local area, with families now collecting used bottles. Every day, a tonne of bottles are crushed and bundled at the plant outside the city limits, in Awassa Wubet.
The city’s schools and university have brought the project to life through theatre and workshops. CIFA Onlus has taken performances on the subject of plastic to schools alongside partners TPE (Teatro Popolare Europeo) and the Social and Community Theatre, reaching as many as 4,000 children. The initiative provides a different, fun and effective way to teach the next generation about the importance of plastic recycling.

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The collection and recycling system in Hawassa in the Cifa onlus centre (Alessandro Lercara, La Stampa)

Beyond plastic

The project certainly benefits Awassa’s environment, but it also goes further. Its main participants are women, which helps local families to raise living standards and keep their children in school. In a sense, plastic has become a tool for female empowerment, giving women the opportunity to work and escape poverty.
In a similar vein, 30 women in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, work to transform plastic into new items for sale and reuse. This highly promising initiative combats poverty while protecting the environment, providing a source of income and work for highly marginalised sections of society and contributing to the local economy.Elsewhere in Africa, a recycled plastic boat is sailing the ocean, 500km from Kenya to Zanzibar. Flipflopi is the first dhow – a traditional East African craft with a triangular Arabian sail – to be made entirely from plastic. The multicoloured dhow is not just made from recycled bottles, though, but also 30,000 flip-flops collected from the streets of Nairobi, Mombasa and Malindi and the beaches of Lamu. Built using yellow, red, blue, white and green planks recovered from 10 tonnes of waste, Flipflopi is a multicoloured landmark floating on the ocean.

A recycled plastic boat

There is, therefore, a growing focus on recycling in Africa. And it is above all young people who have taken on this challenge, looking out to sea and beyond, with flash mobs breaking out in cities and plastic superheroes leaping into action.

 

READ MORE: Road to bioplastic by Michelle Leslie

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Eniday Staff