A group of women in Kibera, Nairobi, are cleaning up their neighborhood and improving the local environment by transforming improperly disposed plastic bags into works of art. Environmental sustainability meets economic development in this innovative project.
Polythene bags are cheap, light bags that are used by many Kenyans and the rest of the world as packing bags. The majority of Kenyans find it easy to use them. This being that they are cheap, and therefore easy to carry when hauling light commodities. Despite the fact that they are low-priced and light, they are also affordable to a higher percentage of the Kibera residents, who widely use them for packing most of their commodities. Today, the majority of the residents are seen throwing away the polythene bags anyway, and there is no proper action that has been taken. This has led to a continuous, improper disposal of waste.
Sensitization on polythene bags disposal.
Due to the lightness of the polythene bags, they are easily blown away by wind from one place to another. This has created unremitting littering, which today has become a hazard to the environment. As a result, poor disposal of the polythene bags can also lead to the spread of different diseases such as cholera and many other diseases. This is mainly due to inadequate capital and easy disposal after use. In Kibera, Karanja, we met Zero Waste Group, a group that has emphasized the collection and usage of polythene bags; which they use to come up with different types of art.
AMINA ABDALLAH [Member, Zero Waste Group]
I used to sew clothes, but now I'm in the business of sewing polythene handbags. We decided to collect polythene bags and use them for our work. This helps in cleaning the environment. By changing our mentality, we are able to use things like polythene bags to come up with different art. They can be used to produce a lot.
KADARAH ABUBAKAR [Founder, Zero Waste Group]
We recycle anything. Since we started this, it has enhanced the cleanliness of the environment around us.
Others call it trash. But for Zero Waste Group here in Kibera, Karanja, trash is cash. After they have collected the polythene bags that are disposed everywhere here in Kibera, they are able to come up with concrete and imaginative products like this one I am holding in my hands. This group is not only talented in sewing of the polythene bags, but they are also able to come up with different types of art.
An art like this one, the one with three women, symbolizes a Nubian wedding. What they are carrying on their heads is the dowery that they are going to give. At first we used to make handmade papers and fiberboards. So we thought if we sell plain handmade papers, which are now the cards, who will buy them? That's why we thought of putting some of the decorations for them to look attractive.
The group also believes that local projects like this should be emphasized to sensitize and educate communities on the dangers of improper waste disposal.
We have been able to share our ideas with the youth, and also with some women who are interested in our work. When we see someone throwing away the polythene papers, we try advising them on its importance. They always ask, "What is the importance of keeping the polythene bags when they need to be trashed?" We make most of our products out of the same trash they throw away. We tell them that our final product comes from the washed polythene bags that we've collected. When someone brings the polythene bags, that's when we he or she realizes the importance of the polythene bags.
They also believe that the scourge of the polythene waste disposal is lead by its easy disposal.
Since we started, we have at least been able to make our surroundings clean. Disposing them proves to be a bit hard since they are easily blown away. The best example is when I'm on a bus heading to town, I'm able to see polythene bags disposed everywhere. It has become a habit for me. Whenever I see the polythene bags anywhere, even if it's on my way to town, I'll alight to go and collect the polythene bag.
Polythene bags are now the biggest enemy to the environment, since they do not decompose. When anyone sees us picking up the polythene bags, they always ask what we are going to do with the trash. Sometimes they see some of our products and ask, "How did you find this?" This is when we explain to them that the material has been recycled from the polythene bags. We are also spreading our ideas to people. We carry our bags with us whenever we go anywhere. When I\0x2019m carrying it, people ask, "How did you make this bag?" I have to explain to them that it's made from Nakumatt and black polythene bags that they use when buying their basic commodities. Today we are taking a step to overcome the challenges, but before we had a lot of challenges.
The project generates income, and this helps since we don't have to depend on our husbands.
We wash and sew. Polythene has now become an important source to us. It's like bringing dead material into existence.
But the question that remains is: has society played an adequate role in curbing and sensitizing people to the dangers of improper waste disposal? Wilfred Masea, Kibera TV, Nairobi.