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Sierra Leone News: With water sachets flooding the market, Bo turns to recycling

Waste General explaining about his work

Waste General explaining about his work

Visit any city in Sierra Leone and you’re sure to run into people selling plastic sachets of water. After people drink the water they usually throw the empty sachets away, causing a host of environmental problems. In Bo, the City Council’s Waste Management Department is working to reduce the negative impacts of the plastic sachets by recycling them into useful products.
Tex, is one of the major water sachet producing companies in Bo. At the Tex factory, the plastic water sachets are filled with water drawn from a well. Then, in a dim basement room, the water is piped through filters and treated with ultraviolet light to kill bacteria in it. It’s then rapidly pumped into the rolls of plastic sachets, which are sealed. Workers scurry to gather up the filled water sachets and pack them into bags, ready to go to market.
Tex produces over one thousand of these sachets every day. They’re sold mostly on the street and in shops, ending up in people’s homes and offices. And once people finish drinking the water inside them, the plastic sachets have to go somewhere. Without careful waste management, they’ll likelpppy end up in a dump.
Alfred Maada Fobay, waste technician for the Wealth Hunger Hilfe project in Bo, said waste products like these plastic sachets can cause many problems if they’re not properly disposed of. They block drainage systems, which leads to flooding in the rainy season. The trash build-up they create undermines the beauty of the country, Alfred said, and so hurts tourism and the economy. And unless something is done about them, the plastic sachets are here to stay, as plastic takes hundreds of years to decompose.
Burning them isn’t a solution, noted Swahilo Koroma, Waste Disposal and Land Field Site Manager for the Bo City Council’s Waste Management Department, because it releases harmful toxins and damages the ozone layer.
Alfred said managing waste requires changing people’s behaviour, as people are used to just throwing trash in the street and aren’t used to thinking of waste as something they can get value out of.
But creating valuable products out of waste is very possible. Alfred said recycling waste will not only help mitigate the environmental problems, but can provide green jobs for the youth.
Turning waste products into valuable materials is exactly what the Bo City Council Waste Management Department is doing. Koroma, Waste Disposal and Land Field Site Manager for the Department, spoke to Awoko about how the Council has involved people to recycle this waste and the impacts this has created.
Before 2013, Koroma said, Bo practiced conventional waste disposal, dumping it indiscriminately. By 2013, there were a lot of illegal dumpsites in Bo.
But in 2013, the department received funding from DFID to recycle waste into useful products. In a waste audit that year, the department found that plastic water sachets stood out as a particular problem.
The department started transforming the plastic sachets into pavestones. Francis Gbondo’s Enterprise in Bo sells all manner of bags and cases sewn together from recycled plastic.
The pavestones are made at a waste recycling zone located amid farmland. The recycling plant won the BBC Waste to Wealth competition in 2015. The site also processes aluminium cans, melting them down and pouring them into moulds to create metal pots. Sawdust is made into bricks that can burn for long periods of time. And on the edge of the site is a pile of used plastic water sachets ready, to be recycled into paving stones.
Alfred Muana, waste manager at the recycling plant, explained how he melts the plastic in a large cauldron and mixes the liquid plastic with sand, which is pressed into paving stones, which are tar-black in color.
Many of these bricks were used to pave the walkway around the Bo City Council Waste Management Department office.
But as much as it is a useful transformation, Swahilo Koroma admitted it’s not perfect. It’s hard to make products like the paving stones commercially profitable, because they are very labor-intensive and have to be made by hand. The department is looking into a way to automate the process and make it quicker.
The Waste Disposal and Land Field Site Manager said the department is also hoping to attract private sector investment in waste management. It put out a call for anyone with an idea about how to convert waste products into something useful, they should bring their ideas to the department.
By Betty Milton and Chetanya Robinson
Tuesday Sepemter 06, 2016

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