Lessons We Must Learn Now or Find Ourselves Forever Consigned to the Fate of Mere “Hewers of Wood and Drawers of Water”

Published August 2, 2021

There was a time in the history of this country when the common use of plastic bags was unknown and perhaps virtually nonexistent. Paper, aside from its use in offices and classrooms, was the standard fare for wrapping purchases whether it was peanuts, fish or whatever.

When dumped or disposed of, paper decomposes quickly, returning to Mother Earth its just due. Soils found around urban settlements, now overburdened choked with plastic waste, are most evident in the country’s capital, Monrovia.

Discarded plastic can be found just about everywhere. Some of it is washed into the ocean from the many creeks, rivers, streams and rivulets that empty into the Atlantic Ocean. Currently the mangrove swamps around Monrovia which contain a variety of wildlife and which serve as breeding grounds for fish and crustaceans including clams and periwinkles (kiss-me) are reported to be under threat and face great danger from plastic pollution.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has acknowledged that plastic pollution poses great danger to the environment, especially to marine life in the ocean and to mangrove swamps that dot Liberia’s 350-mile coastline. Despite such acknowledgement by the EPA, it appears as though little or no official action has been or is being taken to address the problems in concrete terms.

The importation of single-use plastic bags and the random disposal of other plastic materials, including medical waste, continues at pace leaving conservationists and the public to believe that pronouncements by public officials about the menace and danger posed to the environment by discarded plastic waste, are intended only for the ear. 

Discarded plastic waste is now recognized as a global problem. So the question is, what is being done by the public and private sector to meaningfully address the problem? In other countries, governments are paying increased attention to the problem and are working with industry (the private sector).

In Japan, for example, an entire hospital unit has been built from discarded plastic and there are plans for expansion underway. In some countries, including African countries, governments are creating enabling conditions to encourage private sector involvement in the recycling and transformation of plastic waste to useful materials.  

But while governments in other countries are involved and paying attention to private sector initiatives aimed at addressing the problem, the Liberian government, it appears, has done little or virtually nothing to encourage such private sector initiatives aimed at the transformation of plastic waste into useful materials for public consumption.

In this regard, initiatives by young Liberian environmental activists, Abraham L.B. Freeman and D. Bacchus Roberts to transform or recycle plastic wastes to produce raincoats, handbags and other materials from discarded plastic water sachets should and ought to receive support from the government of Liberia.

Sadly, this is not the case for, it appears, local entrepreneurship which should be encouraged to help drive our economic recovery efforts is being conveniently ignored by national policy makers including development planners. 

Both young men, according to a story carried in the Friday, July 19, 2021 edition of the Daily Observer, in 2019 started the production of building bricks from recycled plastic waste in the Jamaica Road area. But they quickly realized that using fire to set the plastic alight was environmentally unfriendly.

 And because they lacked the finance to purchase equipment required for brick production, they decided to switch instead to the production of handbags including school bags and raincoats for use by local communities.

They have since relocated from Jamaica Road to Mount Coffee, site of the nation’s largest hydroelectric facility. Residents of the area say that the activities of these young entrepreneurs have brought a beneficial effect to the community. Young people in the community are becoming increasingly involved in the project, mainly as volunteers.

According to Raymond Camp elder, Frank Goodlin, during the reconstruction of the Mount Coffee hydroelectric facility, thousands of people flocked to the area seeking employment or daily hire jobs. They left behind thousands of discarded plastic water sachets, which had become a threat to the community and to the hydroelectricity facility.

Further, according to Elder Frank Goodlin, the two young men, acting on fears that discarded plastic waste dumped into the St. Paul River could eventually get sucked into the power turbines at the facility and cause immeasurable damage, which could disrupt power supply to Monrovia and other areas; they launched a sensitization and awareness campaign to alert the community to the danger of plastic waste pollution.

Elder Frank Goodlin disclosed that the community pitched in to help by constructing giant collection boxes into which locals were encouraged to dump their plastic waste. Every Saturday, groups of youth volunteers collect the waste and take it to a material recovery facility where the plastic is cleaned of dirt and washed.

Thereafter, the plastic is sent to local tailors where they are recycled into handbags and raincoats. The raincoats and handbags are then distributed to local school going children.   

But Freeman and Roberts have their eyes on the future. They have started a new venture working in collaboration with students of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to explore ways in which discarded plastic waste could be recycled for use in resource deprived communities around Liberia, particularly in urban and rural urban areas where the problems of plastic waste pollution are most pronounced.

The Daily Observer has long held that Liberia’s developmental challenges can be addressed more meaningfully only if we, including national policy makers, look more inwards where the immense potential of our youths can be fully unleashed and tapped for the benefit of the nation. Messiers Freeman and Roberts are already showing the way, for where there is a will there is always a way. Foreign capital investment is good but indigenous capital formation and investment is always better. This we must learn now or find ourselves forever consigned to the fate of mere “hewers of wood and drawers of water”.