Begun in 2015, WasteAid is an independent charity set up by waste management professionals to share practical and low-cost waste management knowledge with communities in low-income countries. Figures indicate that around 1 in 3 people globally don’t have access to decent waste management systems – this exacerbates pollution, harms people’s health, and has a knock-on effect on local economies. In addition, the impact of plastic waste in our oceans is staggering – plastic debris causes the deaths of more than one million seabirds and more than 100,000 marine mammals every year; and 70% of that plastic comes from low-income countries. WasteAid attempts to turn the problem of waste into an economic opportunity for impoverished communities, thereby reducing the level of pollution and improving the well-being of those most at risk.
So where does plastic and paving come into the equation you might ask? The answer can be found in Making Waste Work – How to transform plastic into paving tiles. In short, communities are encouraged to collect all forms of Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE) plastic such as plastic bags, water bags, plastic film and containers; they are instructed to melt this in a barrel over a wood fire and once it’s melted, to add sand – construction sand used for making concrete is best. This melted mixture is then transferred to a well-oiled mould – the mould can be any shape, but it’s advisable to not be more than 4cm deep as the material will stick to the sides preventing the newly formed paving block from coming out properly. Once removed it should be left to cool down and after two hours it is said to be ready for use. The toolkit goes on to say that the paving blocks ‘also make good rainwater harvesters: being non-water absorbent, the risk of dew, algae and fungus is almost eliminated, and this ensures clean water, [they] make good insulation, keeping you warm in winter and cool in summer [and] the sand in the tiles acts as a fire retardant.’
And there, with some ingenuity, waste plastic has been turned into a valuable building material which can either be used or sold on, creating a source of income for the community. It’s wonderful to know that an initiative like this exists, but so much more is needed – collectively every small act that helps us conquer our waste problem is a victory in the eyes of the planet.