Today, more and more Ivorian primary and secondary school students are taking classes in classrooms made of recycled plastic.
September 9, 2019 is the first day of school in Côte d’Ivoire. Dumbia Tiranga, the headmaster of a public girls’ school in the village of Gonzag near Abidjan, has no illusions about students registering. “Parents here first think about older children. In other words, it is important to go to junior high school and high school. After that, they will consider buying tables, chairs and benches for younger children. It is even later when bringing girls to school to register. We estimate that we will not be able to complete the reporting work until the end of the month.” She said. This is indeed the case. On the first day of school, only 20 girls came to the school.
Although the registration time of girls in this all-girls school may be later than other schools, in terms of the school’s building materials, these girls are the first batch of “crabs” in the area. Every brick in the school’s three classrooms is made from recycled plastic. The gray plastic bricks are effective against climate change and are much easier to use than traditional materials. The process of workers using these plastic bricks to build a house is like playing Lego. The house built is also much more stable than the traditional brick house, and it only takes less than a month to build a classroom.
The inventors of plastic bricks are Oscar Mendes and Christina Gamey. In 2014, the Colombian couple started a company called Plastic Ideas to promote and sell the bricks, which are made of 100 percent plastic. Their plastics are all collected from the most polluted places in South America. Later, in order to expand overseas markets, they set their sights on West Africa. In the opening season of Côte d’Ivoire in September 2019, they fired the first shot to open the situation.
| Classrooms in short supply|
In Colombia, plastic bricks are mainly used to build houses, but in Côte d’Ivoire, the first object of plastic brick service is the school. “Ivory Coast is so short of classrooms!” said Sophie Chavanel, Communications Officer at UNICEF in Abidjan. “By 2025, Ivory Coast aims to build 30,000 classrooms, so that all All of the children will be able to go to school.” The plastic bricks of the “Plastic Idea” company can come from Colombia to Côte d’Ivoire to build schools. Chavanel has contributed a lot. classrooms, with a capacity for approximately 25,000 students. “We can’t get rid of plastic, so let’s get rid of it,” she added.
Some villages in northwestern Côte d’Ivoire have almost no schools, and even if they do, the classrooms are rickety. Over time, the classrooms made of bamboo, tarpaulin and soil will loosen. In the rainy season, the classrooms will collapse after a few days. In contrast, plastic bricks are much more durable, and the climate of Côte d’Ivoire is also suitable for plastic bricks. Setinisio Soro, the former principal of the girls’ school, recalled: “The sea breeze here caused us a lot of trouble, for example, the iron poles would rust, the concrete buildings would collapse, and the cracks in the walls would be more serious. It can be seen everywhere…”
After the “Plastic Idea” company entered Côte d’Ivoire, it first chose to build classrooms in four villages including Gonzage Village. In recent years, the population of Abidjan, the economic capital of Côte d’Ivoire, has grown exponentially, leading to a surge in the number of school-age children in nearby villages. “After the catastrophe in 2000, Ivorians moved from the high-risk areas prone to flooding to this relatively safe area to rebuild their homes,” recalls Thiranga. Subsequently, the number of school-age children in this area has been growing substantially. In 2018, 200 students of the girls’ school were crowded into three dark and stuffy classrooms, each only 12 square meters. The classroom environment is too harsh, and teachers and students often go to the playground to take classes to catch their breath.
Today, the plastic bricks used to build classrooms no longer rely on imports from Colombia, and a plastic processing factory in the industrial center of Abidjan can independently complete the production of plastic bricks. Using traditional building materials to build a classroom that can accommodate 50 people requires an investment of 15,000 euros, but after this factory is put into operation, it can be reduced to 10,000 euros. The material used to build each classroom is actually 5 tons of recycled plastic waste . The factory currently employs 30 workers, and at the same time, there are hundreds of waste pickers who indirectly collect waste plastic for the factory.
| Making the Plastic Circular Economy Big |
In Abidjan, many women make a living picking up trash. For the past eight years, Naizata Cisse, 30, has been picking up plastic bottles, bags and other waste six days a week. There were more than a dozen women picking up things in the same area with her, and they all picked up things with big bags. Cisse sorts the waste and sells it in bundles to middlemen for 150 CFA francs at a time. Middlemen, mostly men, resell the recycled goods to manufacturers who recycle and reuse waste.
Previously, Cisse worked hard for a month and could only earn 40,000 to 50,000 CFA francs, while the legal minimum monthly salary in Côte d’Ivoire was 60,000 CFA francs. “I have three children, and this money is really not enough,” she said helplessly. Now, the new plastic processing factory provides training for local women scavengers, teaching them how to wash and shred plastic, so they can bypass middlemen , Earn a little more. Plastic Ideas has done just that in Bogota, Colombia, raising the daily wages of female waste pickers from $5 to $10 to $20 to $25 a day. The company plans to train 1,000 female waste pickers in Côte d’Ivoire first, which will not only increase their income, but also further promote the circular economy of plastics in Côte d’Ivoire. At this point, Bogota has a say. Today, the region already has multiple recycling points, and as many as 15,000 people participate in the recycling of plastics.
Plastic bricks could also make Côte d’Ivoire cleaner. According to UNICEF, in Abidjan alone, 288 tons of plastic waste are generated every month. This pollution is particularly harmful to children under the age of five. “If the plastic bags and bottles block the drains and prevent the water from flowing, more mosquitoes will be attracted and more people will be infected with malaria.” Chavanel said worriedly, “Some children accidentally drink the water in them.” , got diarrhea.”
On the first day of the school day, when she was about to leave work, a grandmother named Yanetti took her granddaughter to report to the girls’ school in Gonzag Village. Looking at the plastic classrooms in front of him, Janetti asked: “Although these classrooms look beautiful and strong, are they fireproof?” The person in charge of UNICEF said that the tests showed that this material would not harm the children. No health hazard, don’t worry about fire, not to worry about the toxic fumes emitted by these materials. After hearing this, the grandma said: “We definitely can’t live without plastic. We can’t live without plastic bags and plastic buckets. We can’t do without these in our daily life. It’s great that there is a way to reuse plastic now. But be careful. Don’t let new technologies bring new problems.”