- Andy Teale
8 ways we're working with the community in 2021 to create an even bigger impact
Happy New Year everyone!
After a turbulent 2020, which at times felt never-ending, we're finally in a new year! Whilst many of last year's challenges remain, such as the pandemic and its economical knock-on effect, we're looking forward to the impact we can create in our fourth-year operating.
Like last year, we'll be working in partnership with the local community to clean up the environment, recycle plastic and create income opportunities. But in 2021 we plan to do it bigger, better and more widescale than ever before!
Here are eight ways we're working alongside the community to create an even bigger impact this year...
Helping the community to recycle even more plastic
Since 2017, we've helped the community to remove over 350 tonnes of plastic waste from the environment.
This has largely been achieved through our network of over 20 Community Recycling Centres that are spread across the region of Masaka. We've placed each site in convenient community hubs, such as near markets, schools or churches, so recycling is accessible and easy for everyone.
Once enough plastic has been gathered at the facility, we then transport it to our central HQ so it can be recycled.
Our focus in 2017-2019 was largely on establishing the network, so people had the means to recycle. As more site popped up, we could gather more and more plastic. Then in 2020, when the network was fully established and reached its potential, we were forced to close for 6 months due to the pandemic.
However, in 2021 (fingers-crossed), there's no reason why we can't recycle at least 50% of our running total in a single year - 175 tonnes - creating an even bigger environmental impact than ever before!
Creating more income opportunities that are open to everyone
When people bring plastic waste to our Community Recycle Centres, we weigh it and pay them for each kilogram.
We've made this a fundamental part of our model for two reasons. One, to give the community an incentive to recycle, and two, to help create job opportunities that are open to everyone. Poverty is widespread in Uganda, and therefore we aim to provide an accessible method so people can earn an income and build their own way out of poverty - affording basic things like food and shelter.
Due to the lack of waste management systems in Uganda, you can pretty much find plastic waste everywhere you go. Therefore many of our Plastic Collectors have made gathering plastic their full-time jobs!
Through these means, we've created over 3,000 freelance opportunities, and as this links directly to how much we recycle, we're expecting to create even more income opportunities in 2021!
Recycling more plastic in-country than before
In our initial years, when we were focused on setting up the Collection Network and yet to purchase the machinery so we could recycle the plastic ourselves, our central HQ largely served as a collection point that would gather the plastic from the other sites and then bale it. We'd then sell the bales to international recycling organisations who would ship the plastic to countries such as India and China, where it would then be recycled.
This allowed us to keep funding the Collection Network so we could continue to pay the community for their waste.
However, our long-term goal was always to purchase machinery so we could recycle the plastic ourselves, into brand new items of value - our Eco-Products. Then by selling these, we'd be able to generate our own revenue to continue to fund the Collection Network.
In 2020, we've largely been able to do this! There's still some work to do in the first few months of this year, but we can now start producing a wide variety of products, such as the 'Brixs' in our name!
This means we'll be able to recycled large quantities of plastic in-country and therefore Uganda can benefit from the economic resource of recycled plastic, rather than shipping it away.
And this comes at a great time as the international recycling industry has largely collapsed due to the pandemic. It's highly unlikely this option will reemerge any time soon!
Creating Eco-Products to benefit the Construction Industry
As mentioned, we'll be recycling plastic and turning it into a variety of products, such as bricks, pavers and lumbar. These can all benefit the Ugandan construction industry as the products have several benefits over their traditional counterparts (in addition to being environmentally-friendly).
The bricks and pavers are lighter, stronger and cheaper than the concrete equivalent. Likewise, the lumbar, which can be used in fencing or constructing furniture, has many advantages too - it's stronger, doesn't rust, and isn't susceptible to termites.
By providing an alternative on the market, we're aiming for more and more organisations to join us in tackling Uganda's plastic problem!
Using our business model to support Masaka through the pandemic
Last year we launched an emergency fundraising appeal to support the community through the challenges of COVID-19 and the resulting lockdown. With the kind generosity of our supporters, we were able to raise over £30,000 to help prepare the unresourced hospital and provide a food programme for the most disadvantaged households.
This year, we'll continually be assessing how to best support the district through this difficult time, but we believe at present that creating job opportunities (through plastic collection) is the best way to help the country recover when many are struggling to get back on their feet and put food on the table in difficult economic times.
Like 2020, we'll also be continuing to produce Eco-Products to help protect people, especially those on the frontlines in hospitals and clinics. We'll continue to produce the face shields which provided protection for every worker at Masaka Referral Hospital (funded by our sales of fabric facemasks in the UK).
We'll also be working with our partners to produce more PPE equipment, such as the prototype masks pictured on the right. These masks are made to international medical standards and provide a great example of how we can turn plastic waste into something which can be really beneficial. With these, we'll be able to give frontline workers even more protection, which is especially crucial as PPE is very limited in the under-resourced Ugandan medical service.
Creating more opportunities for people with disabilities
A major element of our business model is focused on disability employment in Uganda.
Sadly, there is a stigma in Uganda that people with disabilities (PWD) are 'unskilled' and therefore unable to work. This, combined with no welfare support system, means the vast majority of PWD will end up living in poverty.
Therefore, determined to change this mentality, we made PWD a central part of our business model. Not only can they become Plastic Collectors, but we also aim to recruit PWD to manage our Community Recycling Centres around our Collection Network. And we've even aimed to make our HQ, where we make Eco-Products, accessible too, by adding ramps and wider entrances.
At any one time, we aim for 50% of our staff to be from the disabled community and aim to at least maintain this for 2021 if not surpass it. And as our Plastic Collectors' numbers grow, we'll continue to promote this work to the disabled community, so we can help even more PWD earn their way out of poverty!
Grow our 'Plastic For Education' programme and Eco Clubs
Another key part of our work is to educate the next generation about the importance of recycling and looking after the environment. After all, this is crucial in establishing real change across generations.
As part of our Eco Clubs programme, we invite groups of school pupils to our HQ to see our work, learn about the environment, and participate in a workshop where they upcycle a bin to collect their own plastic waste at their school.
Due to lockdown and school closures in 2020, our steady growth to just over 25 Eco Clubs stalled, but we're hoping to add an additional 10-20 groups this year if schools continue to remain open.
Furthermore, as part of our efforts to support Masaka in recovering from lockdown, we've launched our 'Plastic for Education' programme. Unfortunately, pupils in Uganda are required to pay school fees in order to attend education (which in turn pays the teachers) and with many parents being out of work as a result of lockdown, they are struggling to feed their families, let alone afford fees.
Therefore in an effort to help pupils and the school system recover, we established a programme where pupils can collect plastic, bring it to school, and then exchange it vouchers to pay their fees.
The final months of 2020 saw us working with pupils to not only get their education back on track, but also in collecting many tonnes of plastic waste. Therefore, based on its success so far, we're confident this programme will only continue to grow to help hundreds of more students!
Develop new programmes to help the environment and community of Masaka
As an innovative organisation, we're continually assessing new ways to help the community protect the environment. After all, there's a lot of work to be done in Uganda, where there are no waste management systems.
In 2021, we'll be looking at further ways to empower the community, whether that's trying to expand the materials we recycle, participating in local tree planting, or making new Eco-Products to meet additional needs within the community.
We're extremely proud of all the progress we were able to make in 2020, despite the challenging year, and we can't wait to see where this year takes us! Through a combination of recycling more plastic, creating more jobs and innovative products, and supporting the next generation, we're aiming to create an impact that's bigger, better and more widescale than ever before!
And we'll be doing it by working in partnership with the community every step of the way!