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Making money with plastics

by Jeffrey Moyo


Mevion Masarira trudges along Fourth Street in Harare. The 22-year old man is carrying a sack filled to the brim with plastic waste he has collected from dustbins. He is close to the busiest bus terminus in Zimbabwe’s capital and checks all garbage bins for plastic.

Wearing a dirty overall and worn-out shoes, Masarira says he has never been employed, even though he holds a diploma in electrical engineering, but plastic junk has become a source of regular income. “I earn about 70 dollars per week from the plastic rubbish I collect,” he says. Recycling companies pay up to 10 dollars per kilogramme. Where others see waste, Masarira sees a resource.

According to Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate Change, about 600 tons of plastic are thrown away in the capital Harare every day. This garbage has become a blessing to many Zimbabweans like Masarira, providing unemployed people with a steady income. At the same time, the waste collectors are a blessing for the city. Plastics do not rot, but pose long-term threats to the environment. Recycling solves this problem.

“Trash collectors are saving the environment,” says Steady Kangata, the spokesperson of the Zimbabwean Environmental Management Agency (EMA). He complains that many people leave plastic waste at “undesignated points”.

According to Environment Minister Oppah Muchinguri, in Harare, “more than half of the trash – including plastic waste – is left uncollected by city workers, with much of it ending up in the city’s drainage systems, natural waterways, streets and undeveloped land.” Thanks to the plastic waste collectors, things are gradually getting better, she adds.

Recycling garbage, moreover, helps to protect the climate, Barnaba Mawire of the international non-governmental organisation Environment Africa points out. When industries recycle plastic bottles, they need a smaller amount of raw materials and less energy than they would if they were producing new plastic.

Jeffrey Moyo is a journalist and lives in Harare, Zimbabwe.
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