The mere sight of plastic waste choking waterways across Monrovia and littering beaches is an eyesore that evokes an overwhelming sense of hopelessness.
However, all hope is not lost as several waste management and recycling businesses, with support from UNDP, tap into this massive resource to expand and re-imagine their businesses, while creating jobs and averting air pollution from carbon dioxide emissions associated with the burning of waste plastic.
The Monrovia-based waste management company, Hysaa Liberia Inc., which used to collect and dispose waste at a landfill, received a grant from UNDP Liberia’s Livelihood and Employment Creation Programme to expand its collection, and begin sorting out plastic bottles (PET) for processing into recyclable flakes in August 2021.
“The main lesson we learned is that plastic has ceased to be waste and is now a resource to which value can be added to improve the lives of young Liberians. The global demand for PET is very high with overseas companies ready to purchase both washed and unwashed PET from African countries. This implies that the collection, sorting, and sale of PET materials, which is used for the production of new plastic materials, is a profitable venture,” says Fomuso Ridley Fongwen, the company’s General Manager.
Fongwen noted that plastic waste has the potential to create hundreds of direct and indirect jobs which involve managing collection, sorting, cleaning, selection, shredding for recycling, and processing into other commercial products, and to the sale and marketing of the new products made from recycled waste plastic.
Fongwen added that his company is growing due to an increasing number of youth who are collecting and selling plastic bottles to them.
Another start-up, EverGreen Recycling Institute (EGRI), collects and recycles single-use plastics using pyrolysis to break down waste plastic into fuels for vehicles, cooking gas, and other materials, which also can be used for roofing and paving tiles.
EGRI produces and sells petrol and diesel to a ready market of motorbikes and the three-wheel vehicles locally called "kekeh."
A grant from UNDP enabled EGRI to purchase additional equipment and hire 10 additional staff, increasing their plastic waste collection and processing from 125Kg per day to 1 ton per day between August and September 2021.
This in turn translated into the production of 200 gallons of diesel daily up from 25 gallons per day.
Over and above the socio-economic value both Hysaa and EGRI are creating jobs through their business activities, as well as providing critical environmental restoration services.
Hysaa, which hired 13 more staff as part of its business expansion, increased the collection of plastic waste between August and December 2021, of which waste plastic bottles comprised 23 tons, averting the release of 56.2 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.
On 18 September 2021, as part of activities to mark the World Clean-Up Day, the company organized a beach cleanup at Sophie Beach in Monrovia collecting a staggering 5 tons of plastic waste in a matter of hours.
“The beach cleanup activity was a big eye-opener to us. The amount of plastic waste along the beaches in the city is alarming and appalling. We can only imagine the effect this can have on marine organisms. In just a few hours, we were able to collect over 5 tons of plastics just on a 3 km stretch of beach,” added Fongwen.
As a result, the company immediately revised its plastic collection strategy establishing collection points on beaches.
Hysaa also sourced plastic bottles from water bottling companies and was shocked to learn many of the companies either helplessly stockpiled the waste plastic, or burned it because they had no disposal option.
Working with five water-bottling companies in 2021, Hysaa collected more than 16 tons of waste plastic bottles between August and December 2021, averting the release of about 40 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. These companies either dumped the waste plastic in landfills or burnt it.