WasteAid appeal: Fighting plastic waste in lower income countries

Cath Wilson and Zoë Lenkiewicz of WasteAid present the recycling charity’s new fundraising appeal, Widening the Net, which is being match-funded by the UK Government and will support WasteAid’s work in marginalised communities

A man stands in the midst of a sea of plastic waste in Cameroon.
A man stands in the midst of a sea of plastic waste in Cameroon.

Interest in and concern about plastic waste in poorer parts of the world has never been higher. Plastic waste collected in the UK for recycling has been found to be polluting communities on the other side of the world, while billions of people still have no waste management service at all. Many of the negative impacts of plastic pollution are easy to spot, but the implications of poor waste management in disadvantaged communities are wider reaching than many realise.

The consequences of the open dumping and burning of waste are felt most acutely by children. Poor air quality and unsanitary conditions lead to respiratory diseases, diarrhoea and stunted growth, as well as impacts on their developing reproductive and nervous systems. Unmanaged plastic waste blocking drains creates the ideal conditions for the spread of mosquito-borne and waterborne diseases. Cholera, for example, if left untreated, can cause death in a matter of hours.

Plastic waste is ubiquitous, found polluting poor rural villages and large coastal cities. Even in the most impoverished communities, plastic waste often presents no obvious value. Without the know-how and basic infrastructure required to collect, separate and process it into useful products, it remains a blight and a cost to society.

Widening the Net appeal

Initiatives supported by WasteAid can provide local communities with the tools and knowledge to tackle plastic pollution, create value chains for plastics and other waste materials, and, crucially, improve childhood health. From a global perspective, schemes that capture ocean-bound plastic and convert it into useful products also prevent the scourge of marine plastic pollution.

Every day across the world, thousands of tonnes of plastic waste is accumulating in rivers and flowing down towards the sea. In Douala, Cameroon, as in many other coastal cities, the river itself is completely obscured by the vast amount of plastic waste inching its way towards the Atlantic.

WasteAid’s plastics recycling specialist, Pierre Kamsouloum, from Cameroon, is determined to make a positive impact here and is spearheading a new programme to train unemployed youths in plastics recycling. By capturing ocean-bound plastic and transforming it into useful products like paving and roof tiles, WasteAid plans to create hundreds of employment opportunities and have a significant positive impact on both the local and global environment.

WasteAid is now fundraising to build a plastics recycling training centre in Douala, which will empower people to support themselves and their communities in the long term.

The UK Government has given the scheme its backing through UK Aid Match, meaning that all donations received from the public by 31 July 2019 will be doubled:

  • £10 doubled could provide training for a family to manage their waste in a safe and sustainable way.
  • £55 doubled could pay for all the safety equipment a new apprentice needs to set up a recycling business.
  • £90 doubled could train someone to capture and recycle 2.5 tonnes of ocean-bound plastic per year.

WasteAid and partner waste management company Biffa recently launched the campaign with an interview on Sky Ocean Rescue and an event on Brighton beach involving a beach hut made from ecobricks, 100 school children and mermaids on stilts! More activities are planned over the summer, and everyone is invited to get involved.

Plastic waste is suffocating some of the most marginalised communities in Cameroon.
Plastic waste is suffocating some of the most marginalised communities in Cameroon.

The Walk for WasteAid is the main fundraising event in the calendar, taking place in Manchester on 6 July. All WasteAid events are designed to have a dual impact of raising awareness and raising money, and with UK Aid Match there’s never been a better time to get involved.

Tried and tested techniques

The Widening the Net appeal for Douala, Cameroon, will train 200 unemployed young people, women and people with disabilities to turn low-density polyethylene (LDPE) plastic waste into paving tiles, using a technique developed by WasteAid’s Pierre Kamsouloum.

By gently melting LDPE, it can be turned into a tar-like liquid, which, when mixed with sand, creates a cement- like mixture that sets rapidly. The WasteAid team is currently training 100 people in the coastal village of Gunjur, The Gambia, in the process and it is proving effective. Within two months of the first training course, the Gambian team had prevented one million plastic bags from reaching the ocean.

At first, some of the trainees thought it would be too difficult – particularly since many are illiterate or suffer from physical disabilities. Special consideration was made to ensure that everyone could participate fully, and every single trainee graduated and has continued with the programme. One of the older women on the course commented: “I did not think I would be able to do this, but actually it’s quite easy. I am really surprised and happy to be involved in this project.”

For unemployed young people, the initiative has also been life-changing. Nineteen-year-old Joko Jabang said: “After school I could not find a job, but through recycling plastics I can make a decent income and have a brighter future,” while her friend Manyima Touray added: “We collect plastic waste that would otherwise have been burned or dumped. Many of us have jobs now, and our village is cleaner.”

Grassroots programmes tackling the plastic pollution conundrum are vital for sustainable development. In fact, simple waste management skills are instrumental in helping achieve many of the Sustainable Development Goals, from life below water to climate change, and from equality to good health.

Making waste work around the world

The Widening the Net appeal and new partnership with Biffa are designed to build upon the progress that WasteAid has made already towards solving the global waste crisis.

In October last year, the WasteAid Toolkit for community-led waste management was awarded
a publication prize by the International Solid Waste Association, and it has now been accessed by tens of thousands of people in 213 countries. A team in the Americas are working on a Spanish translation, and some sections are being translated into local languages primarily for Nigerian communities.

This article was taken from Issue 96

WasteAid has also launched its Eyewitness campaign to gather first-hand accounts from around the world
of the impacts of poor waste management and plastic pollution. With submissions from India, Nigeria, Cameroon, Malawi and Uganda, and new entries arriving every week, the charity is building up a powerful bank of case studies.

For example, Franklin Nchanji in Biyem Assi, Yaoundé, Cameroon, reported that “people around landfills where there is constant incineration usually suffer from respiratory, cardiovascular and skin-related illnesses. It is a very sad situation since they are the poorest in our communities and have low incomes,” while Oluwole Ojetunde in Ibadan, Nigeria, said: “Some bury their waste, some burn their waste, while others dump it at the roadside where it causes the spread of malaria.”

WasteAid’s Eyewitness campaign is available for everyone to see and share via the website.

Meanwhile, Biffa has formed a three-year partnership with WasteAid to support the organisation’s growth. Michael Topham, Chief Executive Officer at Biffa, commented: “We are proud to support WasteAid and share our expertise in parts of the world that urgently need to tackle the complex issue of how to manage waste in a sustainable manner.

“Our financial and technical support will help WasteAid to expand its operations, providing more communities with much needed help as they seek to develop sustainable waste management practices.”

Biffa has already been instrumental in supplying personal protective equipment such as gloves and face masks for teams in The Gambia and Ghana, and Biffa’s Dean Willett joined WasteAid in Kenya to gain an understanding of the challenges on the ground.