Impact Journalism Day 2017

Women at the heart of a plastics 'revolution'

Sorting waste at Proplast

Sorting waste at Proplast  

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20-year-old co-op in Senegal tackles more than pollution

In 1997, a group of 14 women pooled together to open a plastic waste treatment facility in Thiès, 70 km east of Dakar, under the supervision of an Italian NGO. 12 years later, the project has continued to thrive in the form of a social enterprise called Proplast, in partnership with the French consultancy firm ESPERE. Today, more than one hundred women work for the company and 1500 tonnes of waste are treated every year.

An image of a dumpster truck filled to the brim with bundles of trash hangs on the door of Proplast’s office, in the Silmang district of Thiès, east of Dakar. On the day of our visit, heaps of packaged waste were cluttering the loading area. Between 5 and 6 tonnes of waste are deposited there every day. "We receive both bulk and sorted waste. Here we have High Density Polyethylene (PE-HD), Low Density Polyethylene (PE-BD) and Polypropylene (PP),” explained Staff Officer Papa Samba Bâ. In the waste sorting area, women pick up pieces of bottles, containers and buckets, identify them, and then throw them into basins according to their material and color. The thin-faced Fatou Bâ Faye has already spent 3 years at the waste processing center. “We earn a decent living with this job," she whispered. More than a hundred women working both part-time and full-time earn their living here. Among them, some have turned their backs on market gardening or small businesses to continue working at Proplast. "Currently, wages are far better than when we started in 1997," says the current deputy director, Germaine Faye, one of the 14 pioneers of plastic waste recycling in Thiès.

Today, the sector has become a fertile breeding ground for indirect jobs in Senegal. The facility operates until 9pm. Unlike in the sorting area, the clattering of machines can be heard in the shredding unit. Men protected by white masks empty bags into the tanks of one of the three shredders. After much cracking and crunching, smaller material is recovered at the other end. After the shredding comes the cleaning. Between the processing units, the resulting white and blue pellets are laid out on canvases.

 Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions

At the end of the chain is the sifting unit. Women and men lean over half-cylindrical sieves extracting the last impurities from the plastic pellets scattered all over. "This is the final stage of recycling. We obtain pellets which we sell in Senegal and sometimes Europe” explains Mamadou Faye, in charge of production. There has been a sharp decline in the quantity of plastics being incinerated in landfills, neighborhoods and within companies thanks to the market created by Proplast, which prevented the emission of 273 tonnes of CO² in 2008. A local contribution, part of a global effort to combat climate change. "In 2008, when we analyzed our carbon footprint, we realized we had avoided the emission of 273 tons of CO². We submitted a case for compensation and managed to sell those tonnes of avoided emissions to the French firm Espère,” reveals Macoumba Diagne.

The facility supplies its recycled plastic to processing plants in Senegal and sometimes to foreign companies. Sales fluctuate according to customer demand. "The amount of recycled material sold depends on the demand, sometimes it increases, and sometimes it decreases. Every now and then we have customers asking for material that we cannot supply within a month, as we do not have available the raw material that the company requires,” explains commercial director Maguette Samb.

Waste vanishing from the streets

From the entrance to the city of Thiès, to its centre and then onwards to the Silmang district where the facility is located, recyclers make a fortune collecting plastic waste, exchanging a tonne for 100,000 CFA francs (150 euros). "We are aware that we have contributed to the fight against plastic pollution in Senegal," affirms Proplast’s technical director, who has supported the women since 1997. The company’s waste collection streams are becoming better structured. On certain street corners in Dakar, plastic waste disposal kiosks have been set up, and are open to the public. This is Proplast entering an experimental phase. More of them are scheduled for the near future. These kiosks will offer money in exchange for plastic waste, as well as selling items made from recycled plastic. "We are currently setting up “Recuplast” kiosks that both collect plastic waste and distribute garbage cans, containers, garden tables and septic tanks made from recycled plastic," revealed Macoumba Diagne of Proplast. This company of humble beginnings now plans on investing 300 million CFA francs to buy 300 tonnes of waste each year as part of the zero-waste plastics campaign in Senegal.

https://www.proplast-sarl.com/

 

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2020 10:35:15 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/specials/impact-journalism-day-2017/women-at-the-heart-of-a-plastics-revolution/article19135022.ece

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