Plastic as far as the eye can see: scattered by wind and rain, each year the city of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso produces 20,000 tons of plastic trash. For humans, it’s dirty and dangerous. For animals, it’s deadly. One third of all the livestock that die here each year choke to death on plastic the animals mistake for food.
It is the women of Ouagadougou who are turning the plastic plague into prosperity. This starts with the “plastic pickers.”
Each morning, Salamata Yanogo and her friends pick over the piles of plastic, looking for pickings they can sell to Burkina Faso’s first plastic recycling center.
Salamata Yanogo, plastic waste collector (in Moré):
If I collect a lot over two weeks I can make 1500 francs.
That’s just over two Euros, a very modest, yet essential income for Ouagadougou’s poorest people. 2000 people in the area recycle plastic.
Salamata and her friends bring their pickings here, to the plastic waste recycling center. The center was founded by Andrea Micconi, an Italian environmental scientist working for an NGO here. After training at the Turin International Training Center of the International Labour Organization, Andrea organized the recycling center, which is entirely operated by the women of Ouagadougou. Many of the workers come from the poorest sections of the city.
These women have gained experience in conserving, sorting, and recognizing value. Each of the 30 women at the centre, work 40 hours a week, earning about 50 euros a month. That’s almost double of what a teacher earns here.
Margot Kabore is president of the centre’s association of women.
Margueritte Ovempeko Kabore, President, Women’s Association for the Recycling of Plastic Waste (in French):
We have to spread the word about the centre, so that people bring plastic waste here. We work hard cleaning and sorting the plastic, recycling four to five tons every month, so we can cover salaries and maintenance costs.
Women are involved in every aspect of the recycling process. First, the plastic is washed by hand. Then it is sorted by colour and by type. The centre provides gloves, aprons, and other protective gear for the women workers.
The plastic is then put into machines, which grinds it down to granules which are then bagged and sold to local industry at half the price of imported plastic. So far, the centre has sold 50 tons of recycled plastic, worth $40,000 US dollars.
Local companies mold the recycled granules into chairs, plastic tubing, and even affordable ruler kits for local schools. The recycled plastic rulers are cheaper than imported ones. And the school kids are proud they were made in their own town.
School Classroom Teacher (in French):
Who has read carefully what is written on them?
Schoolgirl (in French):
Made from 100 % recycled plastic in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.
Students go on field trips to the recycling center to see first hand where their rulers came from. It helps them understand more about the impact of environmental pollution, and the important role played by the women at the recycling center.
Peter Poschen, Green Jobs Initiative, ILO
The world needs greener economies everywhere and green jobs are policies and measures that take care of the environment, are a way towards development and they are a way of creating decent jobs for all kinds of people. This applies to a whole range of sectors, from recycling, to renewable energies, to clean transport, to reforestation and many others and it offers opportunities for workers across the range, from relatively unskilled to highly, academically trained people.
For the women who collect and sell plastic waste to the center, to the women who work there recycling, there is a sense of pride and accomplishment.
Lamoussa Kamogo, Women’s Association for the Recycling of Plastic Waste (in Moré):
I’m very lucky because in Burkina Faso it’s not everyone who can get a job like
Thanks to the women of the recycling center, today there isn’t as much plastic trash blowing around Ouagadougou. The area’s livestock is safer, families have a new way of making a dependable income, and the pride in what the women of Ouagadougou have achieved grows deeper every day.