Africa, Environment

Cameroonians innovate to fight plastic pollution

Some residents clean up country by transforming plastic waste into ecological, useful materials

Aurore Bonny   | 09.01.2020
Cameroonians innovate to fight plastic pollution

DOUALA/YAOUNDE, Cameroon

Groups and entrepreneurs in the Central African nation of Cameroon have developed innovative ways of reducing pollution.

According to the Cameroonian Ministry of Environment and Nature Protection, about 600,000 tons of plastic waste were identified in 2018, a figure that justifies the commitment of actors involved in environmental protection.

Ismael Essome Ebone, an environmental engineer, recently relocated to Douala, Cameroon’s largest city and its commercial capital. Here he continues to develop an activity he started in the resort city of Kribi a few years ago -- the transformation of plastic bottles into dugout canoes. He has just added to this accomplishment the manufacture of innovative new ecobins.

On the plastic canoes, Ismael said: "In addition to being ecological, they are easy to handle, light, easy to maintain, and made from local and sustainable materials.

“They are like kayaks and can travel through the rapids. They are the opposite of wooden canoes, which also deteriorate after a while and can easily capsize.

According to the young engineer, they are also cheaper than conventional canoes, cost between $100-$300. These prices make them more accessible to fishermen who can't afford the traditional kind.

"Several canoes have been offered to them with the aim of promoting sustainable fishing along the Cameroonian coast," leading out to the Atlantic Ocean, he added.

As for the ecological bins, they are a real innovation that can be found at the crossroads of streets in Douala. They have the appearance of art objects or street decorations but are used to collect plastic bottles.

"We set them up in order to have a global impact on the territory. We want to show Cameroonians that it is possible to limit pollution," said Ismael.

"During the rainy seasons, for example, floods are made worse by plastic waste. Even fishing areas are invaded by bottles or other plastic dirt. Instead of catching fish, fishermen end up with more waste in their nets."

- Awareness essential

Jauberte Djamou, who heads an association for ocean protection, organizes multiple clean-up and awareness campaigns in several cities across the country. The collection of plastic bottles during these cleanings allows volunteers from his group to make furniture -- for example, armchairs, beds and tables.

"I'm focusing on awareness raising. Because in spite of everything we do to transform waste, the situation doesn't change. There's always more. So I'm educating children in schools about the importance of protecting the environment.

“But I also teach them how to make things out of bottles instead of throwing them anywhere. With 600 bottles, one can make a nice armchair. Art can also be created out of five bottles. Anyone can do it, and it will help the environment," she said.

In Yaounde, the country's capital, Roger Milla, a Cameroonian football legend, set up an association that converts waste into plastic for paving stones, which are used in the construction of sidewalks and schoolyards, for example.

Fegue Pancrase, the group’s executive secretary, elaborated on one of its projects.

"We’re ridding the city of Yaounde of all types of plastic waste. We then transform them into paving stones. We add iron oxide to give a color similar to the conventional ones. We had this idea to fight the pollution due to this waste.”

Pancrase said he is pleased that the project is a success even if he regrets that in Cameroon, people are not yet educated about the concept of collective sorting. According to him, many do not feel concerned.

In a clean-up operation last year, two private companies removed 1,600 kilograms of plastic waste from the Wouri River in Douala.

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