This thought piece is written by WasteAid’s Circular Economy and Waste Management Lead, Rebecca Colley-Jones, following a recent visit to one of WasteAid’s project locations in Douala, Cameroon.
Having joined WasteAid at the beginning of November 2022, I had the privilege of embarking on my first field visit to Douala, Cameroon two weeks later with our CEO Ceris Turner-Bailes. WasteAid has had links to Cameroon for a number of years and started formally delivering programmes in January 2020, funded initially through the UK AID Match programme.
The main focus of my visit, aside from familiarising myself with WasteAid’s work in Douala, was to follow up on our initiative to build and support a Plastics Recovery Facility (PRF) in Douala 3. Land for the PRF had been allocated by the municipality to build the facility, as the Mayor and his team were keen to see such a facility located within their district, and were excited by the potential of the PRF to assist in providing a solution to the area’s plastics pollution challenge. The aim of the PRF is to adopt a circular economy approach recapturing plastic materials, adding value to them and ultimately closing the loop on plastics.
WasteAid’s partnership with leading global private markets firm, Partners Group, began at an integral time for this programme. Funding from the Partners Group employee foundation, PG Impact, meant that we could scale the impact and increase livelihood opportunities for more young people, with positive outcomes for the wider community and environment. Cameroon has a population of 27 million with over 55% living in poverty, so it was significant that we are able to reach more people through this partnership.
When arriving at the site, it was great to see that the construction work was well underway, with the office block, toilets and shower facilities as well as the main sorting area pretty much completed. The borehole had been drilled and installed and the tower for the water holding tank had been constructed.
In order to ensure that the infrastructure we provide is right and to make the site as self-contained as possible, we decided to look at the possibilities for rainwater harvesting to maximise water use and efficiency. Electricity can be sporadic so to tackle this challenge we decided to look at the possibility of installing solar panels, and also look at two types of bailers to be manufactured locally – one electric and one manual – and I am working with our Cameroon project team to source the right equipment.
In terms of activities on the site, we went out to interview potential users to see what they would need in order to add value. We will be catching up with some of these people and sharing their stories in the coming weeks, currently most collectors are working either out of their homes or at the side of the street. The PRF will enable collectors to increase efficiency and add value to the collected plastics. With more collectors on board thanks to Partners Group, we will be seeing a higher volume of plastic collected and diverted from drains, rivers and the ocean.
To ensure sustainability, WasteAid works within the existing value chain, finding ways of further supporting those working within it. To understand how best the PRF could integrate into the current local value chain, it was decided to assess the market. Visits were made to a number of off takers of plastics, NAME, SC2R and RedPlast. Following our visits, it was concluded that the best use of the site was for it to operate as a bulking and cleaning facility, users will be able to sort, clean and store quality plastic. By washing and baling plastic bottles, the collectors can access better markets, obtain a better price (almost double) when selling to off takers. This has the potential to make a huge difference to their livelihoods, improve the quality of the collected materials and prevent pollution by closing the loop on plastics. The PRF will support a further 45 people in the community of Bilongué 2 in Douala.
We have now appointed a PRF supervisor, and are sourcing the various pieces of equipment needed to complete the infrastructure at the facility. Recruiting of the collectors who will use this facility is currently underway. Many of the potential users of the PRF are actually graduates of WasteAid’s UK AID Match programme who now have small waste collection businesses and networks of collectors.
It was fantastic to see the enthusiasm for WasteAid’s activities in Cameroon, and get feedback on how WasteAid’s initiatives are making a real difference to waste collectors’ lives and helping build a circular solution for Doula’s plastics.