Waste management in Liberia – a country of about five million people – is a great deal of challenge with piles of garbage dotting around several street corners.
The worst is plastic waste management.
From the 1950s to the 70s only a small amount of plastic was produced globally. By the 1990s plastic waste generation had more than tripled in two decades following a similar rise in plastic production. It rose in the early 2000s more in a single decade than it had in the previous 40 years.
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Today, 300 million tons of plastic waste is being generated every year, that’s nearly equivalent to the weight of the entire population.
According to researchers, more than 8.3 billion tons of plastic has been produced since the early 1950s and about 60% of that plastic has ended up in either a landfill or the natural environment posing a serious health risk.
Determined to reverse the disturbingly scary trend, Abraham L.B. Freeman and D. Baccus Roberts from Liberia have set out to recycle the plastic waste generated in the Western African nation into useful products.
Referring to themselves as ‘environmental health and safety advocates’ Freeman and Baccus are single-handedly putting Liberia on the list of nations whose citizens create useful innovations or products from plastic waste – recycling it into pavement bricks.
They began the new initiative in December 2018 after discovering tons of piled up plastic wastes in communities and streets of Monrovia, Liberia’s capital.
“Our first productions, bricks from waste plastics, removed more than 650 discarded plastic materials from the environment,” Freeman tells Liberian Observer.
The initiative is self-sponsored by putting parts of their respective salaries together. Samples of the bricks have been subjected to laboratory testing to know how resistant they will be in the face of compression.
“We have prepared more than 50 bricks and this is just like a politest, we want people to know that plastic can be recycled into bricks. So we took some of the bricks that we produced and sent them out for people to view and test,” Freeman says.
He believes they are ready to begin mass production of their products, but currently, they don’t have the resources.
“We are appealing to Liberians and friends of Liberia to help us on purchasing these machines. We need the machine to start producing more bricks from plastic waste in Liberia.”
The recycling of plastic waste project not only saves the environment but employs other young people in Liberia.
“Recycling of plastic wastes in Liberia has many economic values that people can dive into,” Freeman notes, adding: “With enough research, education, and information, Liberians in the public and private sectors can make massive use of plastics in Liberia.”
In a separate development, South Africa has built its first plastic road using recycled plastic milk bottles – the first in Africa.
The plastics which are made from a non-food-grade recycled plastic are believed to strengthen the road while reducing waste headed for the landfill.
In August, Shisalanga Construction became the first company in South Africa to lay a section of road that’s partly plastic, in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province on the east coast.
Shisalanga’s Manager, Donavan Deane Koekemoer, said the company combined two of the country’s biggest challenges – an abundance of plastic waste and damaged roads to produce the maiden recycled plastic paved road in Africa.
“There is a pressing need to recycle plastic waste in our country to minimize waste going to landfill sites and reduce other environmental threats,” he said.
That project is believed to have been the first part-plastic road paved in Africa. Using asphalt made with the equivalent of almost 40,000 recycled two-liter plastic milk bottles, it has now repaved more than 400 meters of the road in Cliffdale, on the outskirts of Durban.
And now 200 tons of ‘plastic road’ will soon be laid on a stretch of the N3 in KwaZulu-Natal.
The company uses high-density polyethylene (HDPE), a thick plastic typically used for milk bottles. A local recycling plant turns it into pellets, which are heated to 190 degrees Celsius until they dissolve and are mixed with additives. They replace six percent of the asphalt’s bitumen binder, so every ton of asphalt contains roughly 118 to 128 bottles.