Tag Archives: Africa

Zero Waste, Plastics Everywhere, and Developing Countries Pointing the Path

New Orleans      ACORN India’s Dharavi Project has long focused on recycling in the Mumbai mega-slum where we work.  Organizing young waste pickers has led us to create a cooperative of sorts employing scores of recyclers.  ACORN has struck deals with many schools, including the French and American schools there, as well as with the Bloomberg office building to handle and sort all of their recyclable waste.  In Katmandu, Vinod Shetty reported that we also have been able to negotiate being able to operate booths on zero waste at several conventions and trade shows in Mumbai where our recyclers also handle all recycling.  Dharavi has long been famous as a model for integrating work and living arrangements for lower income families in India.  Prince Charles several years ago held the slum up as a model of sustainability.

It is interesting to see developing countries in the global South leading the way in this most fundamental environmental task.  A recent article in Science (September 20, 2019 by Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola, Solomon Assefa, Kareem Sheikh, and Jeannette Garcia) highlighted similar work in Africa and steps taken there to deal with plastic pollution that might be the envy of other countries around the world.

The article, written by both recyclers and academics, points out that there are a higher percentage of African countries than elsewhere around the world that have plastic bans.  Rwanda led the way in 2008 by banning nonbiodegradable polyethylene bags as well as their manufacture with strict punishments and enforcement.  Tanzania has a ban, and Kenya is trying a tax.  Kenya is also experimenting with “incentivizing community-led collection that is turning plastics into mattresses and eco-friendly asphalt, bricks, fencing posts, school bags, and shoes.”

Mr Green Africa

Looking at Africa’s largest city, Lagos, Nigeria, and its production of waste of all kinds, the Science authors argue that it represents a huge opportunity for building plastic recycling plants, but limited electrical power and formal and informal workers inability to sufficiently fulfill the demand of such plants for product are stunting the prospects.  It’s a situation of water, water everywhere without a drop to drink, where plastic is equally ubiquitous, but there’s no system that creates enough to keep plants at full capacity yet.

Experiments in Lagos with incentive-based programs include RecyclePoints and Chanja Datti are promising.  In these situations, individual collectors deliver plastic and have their work redeemed by cash or “points” that can be converted into consumer use.  Elsewhere, Mr. Green Africa in Nairobi has built a network of 2000 waste collectors and recycled more than 2000 tons of plastic waste and rerouted it to manufacturers.  Another operation called Plastic Bank is “a social enterprise deployed in Asia, with plans to expand into South Africa.”

As an organizer, I’ve argued solving community sanitation issues is a critical path to power, if achieved.  The crisis in handling plastic in the developing world coupled with population growth and inadequate disposal systems, may force the creation of some innovative solutions that point the path.

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Finding a Way Forward for Community Radio in Uganda

Kampala    In our last day of meetings, we wanted to make sure we had a way forward in Uganda, not only for potential organizing, but to begin the work with an initiative in community radio.  The more we puzzled over the paths forward, choosing first one direction, and then another, and then both, we realized that despite believing earlier that the process might be quick, in reality it could take years to achieve, certainly one to three at the least.  Even as we moved in these directions, I wanted to make sure the trip to Kampala had been worth the time and trouble for my colleagues as well as myself and our scarce resources.

            Why not start with an internet radio station?  At the least, a block of programming on acornradio.org, perhaps 10 to 16 hours on a weekend at the beginning to prepare for a launch of uganda acorn radio.

            Looking at the population statistics for Uganda, we could almost see this relatively small country swelling before our eyes.  The estimates showed more than forty-one million people in 2017, an over three million increase in one year, compared to the same amount over the previous five years.  Internet penetration was estimated at over 31%, although these figures are notable for their hard rock boosterism.  Under any terms with the right approaches, we would build listenership, and would do so nationally, even if our primary intentions were in Kampala and Arua in the northwestern part of the country.

            Other research we uncovered, as we met on the patio of the Kampala Kolping Hotel, examined the state of community radio in the country.  The authors argued that there was nominally a half-dozen, but in their report treated the efforts with skepticism.  Most were in rural areas of the country.  One of the larger was organized by women journalists and called MAMA.  We couldn’t find a listing on their website or the governments on the power of their broadcast, but they claimed on their website that their signal could reach thirteen million people in a huge area covering most of the southern part of the country.  Who knows?  But at least we might not be alone.

            Once I broached starting, even with this tentative first step, my colleagues responded enthusiastically.  We made lists and workplans.  We huddled over a computer, when we were able to get on the internet, and looked at equipment price lists and debated local purchase versus shipping overseas.  We talked about the languages and content of programming.  We covered any topic we could think of until the day was fading, buses and work were calling my friends, and my time was running out in Uganda.

            I even found myself crawling around behind the hotel and measuring in my mind’s eye whether an antenna on top of this Catholic NGO’s hotel might be enough with some power to reach the slums spread out all around us.

            From such small beginnings, we will see what we can make happen in the coming months and years.

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