Luther Hinga and Zoë Lenkiewicz discuss the impact of WasteAid’s programme in Cameroon and the potential to scale activities through cross-sectoral partnerships.
In the coastal city of Douala in Cameroon, WasteAid and partners are beginning to make a lasting impact on how waste is managed. With a population of 3.8 million and growing at 3.6% a year, Douala unsurprisingly also has a growing waste challenge. Rivers carry plastic waste from inland communities, and the city itself is generating significant quantities of plastic on a daily basis – the vast majority of which remains unmanaged.
Over two years, WasteAid will train 164 young unemployed people in the safe and sustainable collection and processing of waste plastics from the Bonaberi district of the city. Each has the opportunity to choose their preferred field of specialism: plastic collection, tile fabrication, waste related community behaviour change, or marketing and sales. On completion of their training, these interns will be offered long-term employment with WasteAid’s local business partner REDPLAST and help to expand plastic waste collections to other parts of the city and country.
While all waste materials cause a problem if left unmanaged, the increasing use of plastic poses a particular challenge. Unlike metals, used plastic packaging has little immediate value to waste pickers and so accumulates in the streets and rivers of the city, eventually reaching the Cameroon estuary and the Atlantic Ocean. The case for introducing plastic waste management here is compelling, not least due to the impacts of plastic waste on the local fisheries that some 40% of the population relies upon for a living.
The current alternative of open burning of waste is understood to be generating 5-10% of global anthropogenic carbon emissions. Addressing the waste challenge is one of the more cost-effective ways of approaching net zero, and offers a range of livelihood opportunities for the growing number of unemployed young people throughout the African continent and elsewhere.
This two-year project in Douala was made possible through the generous donations from WasteAid supporters to our UK Aid Match appeal in summer 2019. No one group or organisation can fix the waste problem alone, and it’s through partnerships that the most sustainable impact can be made.
WasteAid’s relationship with Bunzl plc is an excellent example of different sectors working together to accelerate progress. Following a year-long project in Indonesia, in 2021 Bunzl contributed further to WasteAid’s work in Cameroon with funding for a 12-month project to set up a PET recycling system. Here, WasteAid will work with its Doualan private sector partner REDPLAST to recruit and develop a new team focused on the dedicated collection of PET. This will be flaked and washed and sold into the PET value chain to make new products, closing the loop and further supporting Cameroon’s progress towards a circular economy.
Meanwhile, WasteAid’s Circular Economy Network funded by Huhtamaki and operating in South Africa, India and Vietnam, is highlighting some fantastic examples of grassroots entrepreneurs driving the recovery and valorisation of waste. At WasteAid, we firmly believe that positive action starts on the ground and works best when local people and organisations develop locally appropriate solutions to the growing waste problem. While a truly circular economy might be a long way off, the concept is gaining traction and attracting more partners who recognise the value in supporting waste management and recycling initiatives in major hubs where there is currently significant leakage of waste into the environment.
WasteAid has developed rigorous monitoring and evaluation methodologies and is constantly seeking new and innovative ways to demonstrate our approach and the positive impacts of sustainable resource management. This data will in turn be useful in convincing more politicians and policy makers to facilitate waste collection services in their areas, as well as attracting more institutional and corporate partners who are looking to make a measurable impact towards reducing climate emissions, preventing marine plastic pollution, and supporting sustainable livelihoods in some of the poorest parts of the world.
This story was first published in Circular Online, the magazine of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management.