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Sierra Leone News:CHETANYA’s View: Trip to Bo, part 2: All about recycling

CHETANYA

CHETANYA

The second day of my reporting trip in Bo started early. We first visited the Bo City Council Waste Management Department to report on its recycling program. Bo started recycling in 2013, transforming discarded plastic into paving stones and bags, and aluminum cans into metal pots, among other projects. This was a promising step forward, with the potential to make the city cleaner, preserve the environment, and even provide green jobs for young people in a country with high unemployment.
Unfortunately, we learned that recycling in Bo still faces some challenges before it can really take off. Both the Waste Management Department and the recycling center we would visit later had BBC Waste to Wealth awards for recycling waste, but Swahilo Koroma, the waste disposal manager for the City Council department, told us that because these products have to be made by hand, it’s difficult to make them profitable, particularly the pavestones recycled from plastic. The Bo City Council wants to find technology that can automate the process, but until then it’s unlikely they’ll be widely adopted.
This is a shame  as we left the Waste Management Department office we walked over some of these pavestones. Without being told they were made of recycled plastic and sand, there was no way to tell they weren’t made of concrete.
Before we saw how they were made, we hitched motorbike taxis to a shop run by Francis Gbondo which sold colorful bags and computer cases in all sizes, all made from recycled plastic. Another okada taxi ride brought us to the recycling center. It was just a few minutes out of the city center, but it could have been rural, surrounded by fields of crops, trees and a small village community nearby.
At the recycling plant we met Alfred Muana, a businesslike man dressed in blue protective gear, who showed us the raw materials he and the other staff recycle: aluminum cans, plastic jugs and a huge pile of used plastic water sachets. To make the pavestones, the water sachets are melted down and mixed with sand, then pressed into blocks. It was interesting to see silver pots and pans, the same kind I’ve cooked with at my hostel, made of melted-down beer and soda cans. Muana explained that after melting the metal, it’s poured over a mould made by making an impression of the pot into the dirt.
It was inspiring to see how trash that would normally clog the drainage system and damage the environment in Bo could be transformed into useful products. But at the same time it as disappointing to think that the process can’t be even more common until it can be more profitable. I hope the recycling system in Bo keeps developing and can spread to cities throughout Sierra Leone.
Later that day we talked to Alfred Maada Fobay, who worked for a hygiene project in Bo and had some interesting things to say about the challenges of recycling in Sierra Leone. He said it’s partly a matter of changing people’s attitudes. Without an established tradition of recycling, people don’t think of trash as potentially useful, and so think nothing of throwing it in the street. He also noted that increases in technological development and standard of living can actually lead to worse environmental problems. The recent invention of water sachets as a popular way to buy and consume water was innovative, but led to more trash being discarded than before.
The next day we saw how the sachets are made, something I wondered about ever since I first saw them in Sierra Leone. The small Tex water sachet plant is located in what looks like the basement of someone’s home. Water to fill the sachets is drawn from a well and is pumped through several filters to kill bacteria. The plastic sachets are unfurled from a huge roll in a spinning machine gradually, and each one is pumped full of water and sealed in the span of a few seconds.
After seeing this process I couldn’t’ help wondering if the filter or bacteria-killing UV light temporarily failed sometimes. It made me feel nervous about drinking from these sachets, but after talking about it with my colleague, we concluded the same is probably true of any bottled water. Meanwhile, our friend and guide Aruna Kamara from Kiss Radio Bo left with a huge bag of water sachets, loading them onto an okada bike as he headed to class at Njala University.
The day had been full of okada rides. The next day, I’d learn more about the issues the drivers face and what life is like for them.
I was glad I got to get a look at the promising world of recycling in Bo. It made me hopeful that with more support, it might be able to transform Sierra Leone for the better.
*Chetanya Robinson is a journalism intern from the University of Washington in Seattle. He is the 7th intern in as many years in an internship program with Awoko Newspaper
Wednesday September 07, 2016

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