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Young Graduates Turn Plastic Waste Into Décor, Bricks To Stem Pollution

Young plastic recycler, Frank Kwalar, showcases flower jar made from plastic container he recycled

By Brita Ebude Kang

When Ewang Marbel, 22, enrolled to study journalism and mass communication at the University of Buea in 2018, she never thought she would end up recycling plastics.

She has found a passion in transforming waste plastic containers into home decorations as a modest way of contributing to the fight against plastic pollution, which is rife in Cameroon.

Typically, Marbel will go around her neighbourhood on a daily basis collecting plastic containers, which she cleans and redesigns into beautiful decorative items such as lampstands, fascinators, house decors, flower jars, among others.

She is one of many young Cameroonians who are stepping into the struggle against plastic pollution in the country. “I have always been interested in environmental protection, but what made me gain interest in plastic recycling was a training I attended that really thrilled me,” she told The Post.

“I have been volunteering with organisations for about three years now, but when I saw the possibility of what could be done with plastics, I decided to learn how to repurpose plastics and, for six months now, I have been working with an organisation that deals with recycling,” she added.

Sample of one of Ewang Marbel’s recycled plastics

Aside inventing creative ways of reusing waste plastics, like Marbel is doing, some youths join local non-governmental organisations to clean up public spaces of plastics. One of such organisations is the Association for Community Awareness, ASCOA, an NGO that has been fighting against plastic pollution in Cameroon’s coastal regions for years now. Each year, ASCOA engages thousands of youths, through beach clean-ups, to collect tonnes of plastics and marine debris.

Cameroon produces over 600,000 tons of plastics in a year, ASCOA estimates, which place her among the largest plastic producers in Central Africa. However, only 20 percent of these plastics are recycled and most of the unrecycled ones end up in the ocean and other water bodies.

ASCOA says plastic pollution and marine debris are endemic in Cameroon and stemming them requires a collective effort – from the government, plastic polluters, the civil society and private individuals.

However, youths like Marbel who have found innovative ways of recycling plastics domestically say they are hardly supported. But the young woman says she isn’t really out for money. All the hard work she puts into her recycling work is because she wishes to create impact and be a change marker.

“The aim of what I do is to prevent the plastic waste from entering into earth and cause damage to the soil or prevent it from flowing into our water bodies and causing a threat to our water bodies and creatures,” Marbel said.

Although the décor she creates using plastics can be sold for a good amount of money, most Cameroonians undervalue it. This is the same challenge faced by Frank Kwalar, a young mechanical engineer who has also found passion in recycling plastics. “I don’t really make enough money from this work, and I don’t have any assistance from any organisation or government,” he told The Post.

Kwalar recycles plastics into tiles, pavement blocks, home decorations and accessories such as flower vessels and stools. He also organises sessions to train other young people on what he does, thanks to a training he received on recycling during his studies in Ghana.

Although many young Cameroonians are engaging in the fight against plastic pollution, their efforts and those of non-governmental organisations are thwarted by minimal government action to stem plastic pollution.

The Cameroon Government has ratified several laws aimed to fight against plastic pollution and laws to protect the environment. For example, Cameroon has ratified Law No. 89/27 of December 29, 1989, on toxic and hazardous waste and Law No. 98/005 of April 14, 1998, to lay down regulations covering water resources. But these laws have hardly been used to protect the environment and hold violators to account.

However, organisations like Foundation for Environment and Development, FEDEV, have continuously decried the lack of action against those who produce plastics and those who litter the environment.

In April 2014, the Minister of Environment, Protection of Nature and Sustainable Development, Helle Pierre, banned the use of non-biodegradable packaging in Cameroon.

Close to a decade since this ban, non-biodegradable plastics are very popular in the country. These non-biodegradable plastics, environmentalists say, block the water ways and seal up the soil and render it more infertile.

Despite the laws put in place to counter plastic pollution and other forms of environmental pollution in Cameroon, the environment is still crying for protection.

People still dump plastic waste in disorder, companies producing plastics take very little responsibility for their by-products, and people still use non-biodegradable plastic packaging and go unpunished. These ordeals are what youths like Ewang Marbel and Frank Kwalar struggle on a daily basis to limit, amid very little cooperation from government and the care-free public.

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