Fri, Jun 08, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Refugee recyclers take aim at plastic waste

Illustration: Mountain People

Adow Sheikh Aden, 32, was mocked when he started gathering empty plastic water bottles, broken buckets and old jerry cans around one of the world’s largest refugee camps.

“Everyone used to laugh and say I am mad because I am collecting rubbish. Here it is not normal to do such things,” Aden said at the Dadaab refugee camp in eastern Kenya’s Garissa County, near the Somali border.

“But then I explained I am helping to keep our environment clean and our community healthy, and also I am selling the plastic to earn money so that I can manage my life and my family better,” he said.

Having fled war in Somalia, Aden is part of a small group of refugees that has have taken up the fight against the plastic waste generated in Dadaab — and also earns an income from it.

Dadaab’s waste recycling project, set up by the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) just over a year ago, has only eight refugee staff memers, but initial results are promising and the plan is to grow, aid workers said.

In a cement-and-iron building equipped with a plastic shredder and compressor, the group has recycled about 6 tonnes of plastic waste so far, generating about 160,000 Kenyan shillings (US$1,590) in revenue.

Plastic recycling has huge potential as a sustainable business for refugees and could be a model for other large camps, such as Bidi Bidi in Uganda, Kakuma in Kenya and Nyarugusu in Tanzania, KRCS project officer Nelly Saiti said.

“We are collecting just a fraction of the plastic waste that is recyclable in Dadaab and so a lot more revenue can be made from this,” she said.

The next step is to train refugees in entrepreneurship so they can take control of the project, reducing their dependence on aid, she added.

PLASTIC OVERLOAD

One million plastic drink bottles are purchased each minute globally, while about 500 billion disposable plastic bags are used worldwide every year, the UN said.

It ran a campaign for World Environment Day on Tuesday to raise awareness of the urgent need to beat plastic pollution.

Nearly one-third of plastic packaging escapes waste collection systems and at least 8 million tonnes of plastic leak into the oceans each year, smothering reefs and threatening marine life.

Plastic also enters water supplies and the food chain, where it could harm humans in the long term, the UN said.

Action is gearing up around the world — from countries banning plastic bags to companies vowing to cut their usage of plastic — yet more efforts are needed to reduce and recycle plastic, environmentalists have said.

The sprawling refugee camp at Dadaab is no different.

Situated 475 km east of Nairobi, Dadaab is home to more than 200,000 refugees, largely from Somalia, who depend on aid — much of it packaged in plastic.

The UN established Dabaab in 1991 as Somalia descended into civil war and the camp has since mushroomed, with more refugees streaming in, uprooted by drought and famine, as well as ongoing insecurity. Many have lived there for years.

The settlement — spread over 30km2 of semi-arid desert — has schools, hospitals, markets, police stations, graveyards and a bus station.

Residents have few ways to earn a living other than rearing goats, manual labor and running kiosks sewing clothes, selling camel meat or charging cellphones from solar panels.

Kenyan government restrictions mean refugees from cannot leave the camp to seek work.

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