As the world marks World Environment Day on June 5, Somali Dadaab refugee camp residents are making a contribution to the environment and earning an income from plastic water bottles, broken buckets and old jerry cans strewn across the area.
The group have managed to recycle about six ton of plastic waste and generated US$1,580 in revenue, using a plastic shredder and compressor, since the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) project commenced.
“Humanitarian organizations have a role to play,” Kathrine Vad, sustainability advisor with the International Committee of the Red Cross, said. The organization is the major supporter of the Dadaab project that empowers the refugees, who the Kenyan government has prohibited from leaving the camp to seek work elsewhere.
“Everyone used to laugh and say I am mad because I am collecting rubbish. Here it is not normal to do such things,” related one camp refugee and recycler, Adow Sheikh Aden, said.
Aden and eight other refugees are currently spearheading the Dadaab’s waste recycling project, which was launched by the international organization, one year ago.
“I explained I am helping to keep our environment clean and our community healthy, and also I am selling the plastic to earn money so that I can manage my life and my family better,” Aden told Reuters.
KRCS project officer, Nelly Saiti, said plastic recycling has huge potential as a sustainable business for refugees and could be a model for other large camps such as Bidi Bidi in Uganda, Kakuma in Kenya and Nyarugusu in Tanzania.
“We are collecting just a fraction of the plastic waste that is recyclable in Dadaab, and so a lot more revenue can be made from this,” Saiti added, stating that the next phase in the project is to train the refugees in entrepreneurship so they can helm the operations.
“It shows that refugees are not a burden as some people think, but that they can be contributors in our societies - not only in terms of income-generation but also in environmental protection,” Saiti said.
Dadaab, one of the world’s largest refugee camps, is home to some 200,000 displaced people, who have fled war-torn regions of the Africa continent. Dadaab was established by the United Nations in 1991 when Somalia descended into civil war. The camp is located 475 kilometers east of Nairobi.
According to the United Nations, one million plastic drinks bottles are purchased every minute globally while 500 billion disposable plastic bags are used worldwide annually.