The widespread use of plastic, especially the single-use type, results in an increase in plastic wastes, polluting both land and ocean. Since plastic doesn’t degrade, when improperly disposed of, they end up accumulating in waterways and soil, contributing to greenhouse gases and posing great risk to animal and human health, as well as the environment.
In 2010 alone, Nigeria released about 0.34 million tonnes of plastic waste into the ocean, ranking ninth globally for polluting the ocean. Since plastic production cannot be stopped, it’s harmful effect can be minimised through improved waste management systems and practices, education, recycling, enacting better policies, and reducing production of unnecessary single-use plastics, among others.
Propcom Mai-karfi, in partnership with eTrashtoCash, a social enterprise that uses technology to combat environmental problems, piloted a plastic waste management intervention in Bauchi state in 2019. Through this intervention, it created awareness about the problem of plastic waste, encouraged proper waste disposal and encouraged entrepreneurship by training people in rural communities as waste collection agents.
Ali Isma’il Gambo is a waste collection agent in Katagum local governement area, Bauchi State, North East Nigeria, where he lives with his wife and six children. The promise of a better income and the positive impact that plastic recycling will have on the environment motivated Ali to leave his trade as a cobbler and go into the plastic waste collection business.
Ali became deaf after a bout of Meningitis when he was seven years old, which his family was too poor to properly treat. At 34, he continues to struggle to navigate the hardships of being a deaf person in a country where over 23% of the population are living with hearing impairments. Due to their limited financial resources, Ali, and his equally deaf wife, must rely on their eldest son, Ahmadu, who has acted as their care giver since he was eight years old.
Ali’s venture into plastic waste collection was not deliberate. He was sitting near the eTrash2Cash office when he noticed people filing forms and upon making enquiries, he was told that they were applying for a waste management training. Ali did not think he would be eligible because of his disability, but due to Propcom’s focus on inclusion of vulnerable groups, he was supported to apply for the training and given all the support he needed to successfully participate and to start the business.
“The training taught me how to use them [plastic waste] to do so many useful things. They taught me how to source and collect the waste in a dignified manner. After the training, they continued to enlighten me on how best to source for waste for free in hospitals, filling stations and the market. They gave me priority as a deaf person.”
The business has not been without challenges. Ali says he faces discrimination both for his disability and for being a waste collector. He says he doesn’t let the discrimination depress him and tries to get people to become aware of the harmful effects of plastic waste.
“People look down on me because I am in the trash business. People think I am a mad person for taking trash from people. I try not to be intimated by people’s discrimination for my disability, I try to show them that it is not my fault for being deaf. As for the trash business, I try to show people how important it is to make sure the environment is not littered with trash, and how resourceful it can be. My family and friends have supported me a lot in communicating and negotiation with people, and helping people understand the importance of my waste collection business.”
Ali also faces risk to his health as a waste collection agent. He says he protects himself by wearing protective clothing and collecting waste only from the source and refraining from rummaging through garbage bins and other waste collection points that hold mixed wastes.
“When I collect [plastic] waste, I use hand gloves and face masks to reduce risks of infection. I do not go to mixed garbage bins or dumps to collect waste. I follow recommendation from the training to only collect trash from the source.”
To make enough income from the business, Ali uses a mix of strategies. He tells people that he will collect and dispose of their plastic waste at no cost; obtains plastic waste from multiple sources and is continually identifying new sources of waste. In places such as hospitals, where he does not have direct access to plastic waste, he employs the assistance of janitors to sort the waste on his behalf for a small fee.
Today, Ali is in a better position financially to look after his family. He says he makes between N8,000 to N14,000 (£17 to £27) in a month just from waste collection. The ability to provide for his family and not be pushed into begging like many people with disability has given Ali peace of mind, and according to him, improved his status in the community.
“Now with this new business, I earn enough to cover basic food spending with ease, without incurring any debt like I used to. My mind is at peace now that my children can eat
at home without starving or going to our neighbours to beg for food. I am respected in the neighborhood because I do not rely on begging like most people with disability.”
Ali is hopeful for the future and looks forward to expanding his business by incorporating
knowledge gained through managing plastic waste and shoe making.
“My hope is to learn and up-skill myself on sustainable waste management practice and
build on the training I received. I am looking at ways to integrate my skills in shoe making with sustainable waste management practice by incorporating all reusable, upcyclable plastic materials into the making of shoes.