From waste to value

Plastic is one of the world's biggest environmental problems, as much as 160 million tonnes of plastic end up as rubbish every year. Many of the world's poor countries have understood this, while we in Norway use plastic like never before. In Africa, as many as 34 countries have introduced a form of ban on plastic bags, yet the continent is overflowing with plastic rubbish. This creates great pressure on the environment and creates several hygiene challenges. In Ethiopia, Norwegian Church Aid has established a large recycling project, "Value 4 Waste", which creates jobs and helps to build bridges between refugees and permanent residents.


Norwegian Church Aid is responsible for water, hygiene and sanitation in two large refugee camps in the Gambella area, on the border with Sudan. In the camps, some refugees have work and income by clearing rubbish, but in Gambella there was a lack of a good and sustainable rubbish management system. The community around the refugee camps often finds it stressful to have a large number of refugees gathered in one place, and many are annoyed that the refugees receive help when they themselves live in absolute poverty. This is often the root of conflict and mistrust. Norwegian Church Aid would try to do something about it.This project creates common jobs and cooperatives between the refugees and the permanent residents of Gambella.- A collaboration between the refugees and the local community created a place to talk, negotiate and find solutions to their problems. This encourages peacebuilding in the region, where clan structures permeate both the cities and the camps, says Norwegian Church Aid's local project manager Bethelhem Meselu Endalew. 



A refugee camp is basically unsustainable. Thin plastic bags are widely used to distribute food and products the refugees need. The same bags become a problem because they are taken by the wind and end up in trees and rivers. Food, water and other necessities of life are distributed to the residents in plastic jugs and metal boxes that are not recycled. This gives the camps great challenges with rubbish. This problem is not only bad for the environment, but the rubbish heaps are perfect for the malaria mosquito to breed. Thus, they also become a health challenge.The project started by removing the thin plastic bags from the market, bags that are to a small extent recyclable. Not only was the garbage problem less, but it provided an incentive for refugees who wanted to make money making reusable bags from the thicker plastic bags that other goods were packed with. Enterprising contractors sewed on the bags for shopping networks people could buy, says Endalew.Canned food is distributed daily, but without an organized handling system, the boxes were often left as rubbish. Metal is next to paper and plastic something that is salable and easy to recycle. We initiated a collaboration between the organizations that distribute food and a recycling company. The refugees are now handing in the empty cans as collateral to get new ones. Thus, the boxes go for recycling, and we prevented the canned goods from being sold on the secondary market.On the African continent, jerry cans are used to fetch and store water. The jerry cans are recycled, and the refugees already made money selling used jerry cans. These jugs are therefore omitted from the garbage project; we would not destroy a system that already works, Endalew explains. 



While the jerry cans were sold to the big city, the salvage of plastic bottles became a major problem. The informal collection of plastic rubbish in the camps did not include the plastic bottles because it was not profitable to collect them. Plastic rubbish is paid per kilo, and it is 80 km to the nearest delivery point. The thin plastic in the bottles has a large volume and low weight, and it therefore became too expensive to transport the plastic bottles. Here there was a need to take greater action.Norwegian Church Aid has entered into an agreement with the Swiss recycling company COBA Impact Manufacturing PLC in Addis Ababa, which receives all the rubbish. Through this collaboration, Coba Impact lends a pressing machine to the cooperatives which presses the bottles together into large plastic bales so that they can be easily transported. Norwegian Church Aid has also provided areas where the bottles could be temporarily stored. The rubbish is transported out of the camp in the empty cars that transport food and other necessary items in. 



Norwegian Church Aid started with an awareness-raising project among refugees and local communities to better understand the connection between the garbage problem, diseases and environmental damage. At the same time, we wanted to raise the status of those who handled the garbage, who were often seen as the lowest on the ladder. - It is a long process to remove such a stigma, but we see a change of attitude now. In the past, they were often harassed, now they have to work in peace, says Endalew. Norwegian Church Aid has as a principle in some projects that the assistance should be provided as competence, training, systems and start-up assistance - so that you can find your own way out of poverty. The project quickly becomes sustainable so that we can pull out. When we work with refugees, such a model creates further challenges. Many have fled headlong; they lack identity papers and have fewer rights in society. In Ethiopia, Norwegian Church Aid spent a lot of time solving the payment problem. Because if you do not have identity documents, you do not get a bank account and thus no money in the account. At the same time, it is important to avoid cash in order to have the best possible control over the flow of money. - Our people sought out the authorities and the banking industry at all levels to give representatives from the cooperatives access to the refugee camps. and to give the refugees access to a bank account so that they could run the business in a normal way, says Endalew. Waste and waste management have gained value and create several positive ripple effects in society. We are now looking at the possibility of upscaling the "Value 4 Waste" project and helping more areas to put in place an infrastructure for waste management. Through your support, you contribute to knowledge and attitude change, create income and jobs, contribute to a cleaner environment and take care of wildlife 


Watch film from the project here: