Southern alternatives for a world without plastic

Sophie Carreau
20 November 2019
Plastic has become part of our daily lives. It has a huge impact not only on the environment but also on human health. Southern countries are taking action to reduce the use of plastic through various circular economy projects. invites you to discover 5 of them.

It is a well-known fact that plastic generates an amount of waste that is never fully treated. This waste then ends up in landfills or contaminates other areas, where it causes severe damage to the environment. The lack of a recycling system that is both effective and cost-effective contributes to this growing and impressive amount of waste.

In 2015, the world produced 7.8 billion tonnes of plastic - that is one tonne of plastic per person.

Communities in the South have decided to tackle the problem and the GEF is enabling sustainable projects to reduce the consequences of the use of plastic and also to learn lessons from these consequences.

What is the GEF?


The GEF is the Global Environment Facility. This financial mechanism serves various UN environmental treaties. The most important of these are the agreements on climate, biodiversity and the fight against desertification. Its activities include providing financial, technical and strategic support to communities and civil society organisations that carry out projects to protect the environment. Belgium contributes 15 million euros to the fund each year.

1. In India

India faces a major waste management challenge because of widespread urban development. Since 2008, the beneficiary of the project, Sarthak Karmis, has been working with the “women rag pickers”. These women are mainly poor and illiterate women from marginalised social castes. They collect waste from landfills or elsewhere and recover any recyclable or reusable goods and materials. Sarthak Karmis' project consists of organising them into groups, thereby strengthening their ability to collect, sort and treat waste effectively.

By joining forces with local governments and with the support of the GEF, the rag pickers now run a 230m² waste collection centre. They have also been trained to design bags from used plastic, which are then sold at exhibitions in India. These women can now earn between 3$ and 11$ a day by selling the plastic waste they collect. This waste is then used to build better erosion-proof roads.

Indian women pick up garbage in a dump site.
© Shutterstock

2. In Jamaica

In Jamaica, inadequate waste management has led to the destruction of marine, freshwater and coastal ecosystems. The coral reef has also been permanently damaged. Incinerating domestic waste releases toxic polluting gases into the air and causes soil erosion. The soil is filled with nutrients and then ends up in the ocean. Because of the nutrients, plastic and glass waste floating on the ocean surface the light cannot reach the corals, which prevents them from performing photosynthesis correctly. This situation also endangers other animal species.

The objective was to save the coral reef of Negril and promote its restoration. The project consisted of two phases. The first phase involves educating citizens about waste management and implementing a coherent recycling system that prevents tonnes of plastic from ending up in the ocean. The second phase involves making products from recycled materials, such as a fully assembled glass house.


3. In Gambia

Plastic is used in all Gambian households, mainly due to low-cost imports, which have a negative impact on the environment.

The project, implemented in three rural communities, allows women to be trained in recycling, marketing, entrepreneurship and accounting to meet the business opportunities offered by plastic waste recycling. Initially, the objective was to improve the economic and social status of these women, while offering them more knowledge of the consequences of plastic waste on their health and on the environment. Over the long term, the project will attempt to reduce the consumption of plastic products, rather than making them more "marketable", even in their recycled forms.


4. In Ghana

In Ghana, waste management has almost reached the point of no return. There is extreme poverty in the savannah in the north of the country. As a result, young people and people with disabilities tend to migrate to the southern part of the country.

A local NGO (GOWIC) decided to kill two birds with one stone, solving the issue of poverty and migration of disabled people, as well as the issue of waste management. The organisation gave them the capacity to manage plastic waste in three districts of the country. People were trained to collect and transform waste into shopping bags, wallets, hats and doormats. The products are then sold, as the participants in the project also received commercial training.

This initiative therefore contributes to the overall improvement of the inhabitants' quality of life, both in terms of their economic situation and health, while reducing their ecological footprint.


5. In Burundi

In Burundi, in the municipality of Muravya, there was an urgent need to reforest Kibira National Park. During the 1993 war, poachers and local populations had cut down the trees.

Many communities fled the conflicts during the war to go and live in the forest, where they survived by eating fruits from the trees called Prunus Africana. The survivors therefore created the Dukingirikibira association (“let us protect our forest”). This association has launched several initiatives, such as replanting Prunus Africana and preventing future deforestation.

During this project, an innovative method without the use of plastics was developed to carry out reforestation. Instead of transplanting young trees whose roots are packed in plastic bags, the association's members decided to use bags made from banana tree bark, which then decompose and serve as organic fertiliser.


For a world without plastic

The overall idea behind these projects is that one day we will no longer have to consider plastic as waste. Changing our approach to plastic production and consumption, focusing on the circular economy and being inventive can change our way of life, so that we can live in a world where all the plastic that is produced is reused and where we no longer have to worry about the pollution of our soils, rivers and oceans.





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