Loba Ewalla, 11, and nine-year-old Nkongo Ewalla are on their school summer holidays, but their grandfather has kept them busy turning bottles into brooms.
They learnt the art of this transformation living with their grandfather in Nkongsamba, Littoral region of Cameroon.
Plastic bottles were spoiling Ewalla Ntouba’s farm, drifting into his fields on the wind, choking up the drainage and generally becoming an eyesore. Ntouba found a way of turning the dreaded waste plastic into something useful.
The brooms they make have proved a great success. They are not only used by households, they are tough enough to stand up to the rigorous use by cocoa and coffee farmers in the region.
The children wake up every morning at about 7 am and step out of the house to collect bottles. By 9 am, they are back home to start working on them.
They get them from crowded drinking spots in the community, where they are dumped on the streets.
Until fairly recently drinks came in glass bottles that were recycled by the bottling company. But in order to save the cost of collecting and cleaning them for re-use, multinational soft drinks manufacturers started using single use plastic bottles.
“You can see that these are the bottles that bother us a lot. It is scattered everywhere in town. So we go around and pick them up,” said Pa Ntouba, during an exhibition in Nkongsamba.
“My farm always had plastic bottles abandoned by people who passed around it. I was angry when these plastics made it difficult for me to farm. I picked up one and started cutting into strands. That is how it all started”, he said.
He had complained to a friend in Douala about the plastic. The friend works for a recycling company, and he showed Pa Ntouba how to make plastic wires from the bottles with a sharp knife, modified to protect the fingers.
As a retired driver, he noted that he now has enough time to carry out this activity. What’s more, the brooms produced by his grandchildren are sold in Nkongsamba markets from $2.5 to $3.4, depending on the size.
Scientists say plastic waste has an enormous effect on the environment. In recent years microplastics, tiny fragments of plastic smaller than visible with the naked eye have been found everywhere. In the ground, in the water and in the atmosphere, even building up in the bodies of animals and humans..
Approximately 7 billion of the 9.2 billion tonnes of plastic produced from 1950-2017 became plastic waste, ending up in landfills or dumped, the UN says. Recent studies reveal that tiny pieces of plastic constantly lofted into the atmosphere, can travel thousands of miles and affect the formation of clouds. This means they have the potential to impact temperature, rainfall, and even climate change.
Pa Ntouba says he doesn’t know about the science, it just disturbs him to see it littered across the streets.
Although the strands they make from the bottles also help in producing shoes and mats, they focus more on the production of brooms, which are in high demand in the locality. They have even replaced imported brooms from China in popularity, customers say.
“I was buying the brooms from China but stopped when I met him. His brooms are better and stronger than the imported ones. I have been using this broom since February”, said Eboum George, a resident in Nkongsamba.
Cameroon is the 21st largest producer of coffee in the world. Nkongsamba is one of the towns that hosted the first German coffee plantations in the 1880s, now occupied by locals. Many farmers use brooms to spread their products during the drying stage.
Pa Ntouba says most of the brooms used by farmers in the area come from China. This explains why they quickly came up with the idea of a broom. As a cocoa farmer himself, he notes that it helps him more.
At an exhibition on World Population Day 2023 in Nkongsamba, Loba and Nkono each pick up bottles from the ground, they remove one end of the bottle and make a small cut. Holding the bottle against a blade they start pulling the plastic into thin strands.
These ropes are then taken into a machine and hardened. The process, their grandfather says, takes 15 hours to complete. The strips from the bottle go through 12 steps of heating and stretching. The result is tougher material.
Demand is greater than what they can produce in a day. The plastics used by the Ewallas come to partly fill the gap in the recycling process in Cameroon.
The Association for Community Awareness has been sensitizing communities on plastic pollution and recycling in Cameroon. They have also held voluntary clean-up campaigns in partnership with recycling companies on beaches in the country.
Although there are efforts made against plastic pollution in Cameroon, experts say there is still much to be done.
An environmental consultant, Regina Leke who carried out a clean-up campaign around ocean beds in the country between 2017 to 2021, thinks Cameroon has to invest a lot on recycling plastics.
“Cameroon produces approximately 600,000 tons of plastics annually, but only 20% of this is recycled. This means about 400,000 tons get stuck in gutters and elsewhere. It is a potential threat for the population and sometimes results in floods,” she noted.
Most of these bottles come from brewery companies. While some of them have been successfully recycled, the majority of them are still found on the streets.
World Environment Day was observed on June 5, 2023 across the globe with a focus on solutions to plastic pollution. The United Nations Environment Programme notes that more than 400 million tonnes of plastic is produced each year. The theme, “BeatPlasticPollution”, rallies all actors to fight against plastic waste pollution.
Support Our Journalism
There are millions of ordinary people affected by conflict in Africa whose stories are missing in the mainstream media. HumAngle is determined to tell those challenging and under-reported stories, hoping that the people impacted by these conflicts will find the safety and security they deserve.
To ensure that we continue to provide public service coverage, we have a small favour to ask you. We want you to be part of our journalistic endeavour by contributing a token to us.
Your donation will further promote a robust, free, and independent media.Donate Here