When Syvanna Gbollie, Program manager at Youth Crime Watch Liberia, saw how Liberians were burning and burying their plastic waste; he decided to intervene.
Gbollie established the Greener Inc, a start-up company to transform plastic waste into pavement tiles and interlocking bricks that will be used to build Liberia's first plastic house.
Under his initiative, Gbollie and his co-workers mobilized community members to collect plastics from their dumpsites and neighborhoods and sell them to his company.
"I lived in this community (Fiamah) before traveling to Uganda for studies. This place served as one of the biggest dumpsites in Monrovia. We faced a lot of challenges with flies, we had a lot of drainage clogging, we had flooding. So that's the problem that I saw and then when I came back after 4 years and nothing had changed. I thought about a way we can help, and brought a few friends around to start this company," said Gbollie.
Plastic waste is increasingly becoming a scourge in Monrovia and its environs. Streets, alleys and avenues are flooded with plastic waste, especially the sachet water plastic, while the government struggles to deal with the situation problem. Plastics constitute 14.2 percent of Monrovia’s solid waste, according to Research Gate, a Germany-based network of scientists and researchers that end up in landfills, drainages and waterways, damaging marine life and the soil for agricultural purposes. Experts say the only way to address this menace is to recycle and limit production.
Former Minister for Lands Mines and Energy, Dr. Eugene Shannon, described plastic pollution as ‘bad’ and called on the government to introduce recycling and support initiatives that are addressing the plague. There is no waste management system put in place by the government to curtail plastic waste.
Gbollie and his team are not only helping to reduce the number of plastics going into the soil, but serving as a source of income for community members in the Gibson Avenue, Fiamah community.
Greener Inc volunteers steer the melted plastics.
For example, if one collects 250 pieces of sachets of water plastic, he/she automatically earn L$10. 250 sachets of plastic constitute a kilo. He admits that people have complained that the L$10 fee is small but, as a startup company, that is what they can afford for now.
According to him, more than 750 pieces of sachet water plastic are used to produce one pavement tile and 1,250 pieces of sachet water plastic are used to produce one piece of interlocking bricks.
“We were able to acquire a machine that helps us shear the plastic. After shearing, we melt the plastic. When it's melted, we mix it with sand to produce the pavement tiles and bricks,” he explained.
Plastic burning has a serious health concern because the smoke from the fire creates black carbon. Black carbon has a significant impact on health, causing respiratory problems, heart disease and brain cancer.
“We buy all of the types of plastics, except the PVC (Polyvinyl chloride), the one they use for the sewage system. We have done awareness in various communities. We talked to the [zogoes] to bring the plastics we will buy from them,” he said. “We buy the plastic for L$10 per kilogram or 250 pieces. It is challenging because we are a self-funded startup company. Our mode of production is labor intensive; it’s not the safest means of production but that’s what we can afford at this moment.”
Uncollected plastic waste breaks down into microplastics. Microplastics contaminate food chains through the soil and water, harming crops. They also have a devastating effect on marine life. Sea birds, whales, fish and turtles can mistake plastic waste for prey, dying from suffocation and entanglement while others die of starvation as their stomachs fill with plastic. A 2016 report by the World Economic Forum says by 2050, there will be more plastics in the oceans than fish if the current trend of plastic pollution is not reversed.
Gbollie said he would love to extend his work to other communities in Monrovia but, due to limited funding, the company is only based in central Monrovia.