Cepow Cameroon Helps Solve Cameroon's Plastic Waste Problem
Welcome to our blog series, CEE-Change, Together. Each month, NAAEE will post narratives from the CEE-Change Fellows as they implement their community action projects and work to strengthen environmental education and civic engagement capabilities, all supporting the mission of cleaner air, land, and water. Join us on their journey! The Civics and Environmental Education (CEE) Change Fellowship is NAAEE’s newest initiative to support leadership and innovation in civics and environmental education in North America. This ee360 program is a partnership between NAAEE, US EPA, and the Cedar Tree Foundation.
“The goal of life is living in agreement with nature.”
— Zeno ~ 450 BC (from Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers).
The pandemic has offered a great potential to reset, rethink, and improve conditions needed to encourage environmental education and beat plastic pollution. Backtracking, reflecting, connecting, and acting together as a unified force will make our planet a safe space for all.
Solid waste management is one of the environmental challenges that many African cities are struggling to contain. As the population grows so does the production of solid waste. In this equation, environmentally friendly and sustainable measures to manage the waste are lacking. Cameroon is one of those countries caught up in this situation. As noted in a 2021 report, Cameroon generates about 16,000 tonnes of waste every day, and 10% is plastic waste. We can find large amounts of solid waste in uncontrolled haphazard locations within the business district and residential areas. According to Great Britain's Royal Statistical Society, approximately 18 billion pounds of global plastic waste flows into the oceans from coastal regions each year. While both city administrators and environmentalists recognize the health hazards and risks involved, the lack of economic and technological capacity has left the city dwellers and residents grasping for help. Landfill and burning are the most common method used to address this issue. Further, poor environmentally conscious behaviors are an increasing trend. Raising the need for environmental education to promote the best environmental practices is vital.
The CEE-Change Fellowship program, launched by NAAEE ee360 and Cedar Tree Foundation, has been so supportive. They have trusted Cepow Cameroon's mission and dedicated their efforts to supporting The Beat the Bottle Campaign with objectives to:
- Remove 50,000 kilograms of plastic from the environment and use them to manufacture plastic pavements and tiles as eco-friendly building materials.
- Create five Eco Clubs in five schools, all aimed at empowering, supporting, and educating youth on the need to beat plastic pollution and conserve our planet.
- In order to alleviate poverty, create 50 direct jobs and over 100 indirect jobs by training youth on entrepreneurship through converting recycled plastics into plastic pavements and tiles.
- Sensitize, engage, and strengthen media discussions and collaborate on the promotion of the recycling program.
Team Cepow Cameroon was motivated by the title of our project: Beat the Bottle. We aimed at engaging youth to collect plastic that has been disposed of carelessly in their environment. To effectively diffuse information about our program, we carried out radio and door-to-door sensitization campaigns. During these activities, many youths aged 15–29 would ask questions about how they could join the program. After a month, we started gaining traction and now, nine months later, 50000kg of plastics have been removed from the environment and transformed into pavements.
With the increased interest in the project and our target of training 50 youths, we decided to create a Beat the Bottle platform wherein all those who indicated their interest could be enrolled and receive both online and offline training. These youth also learned the best collection, sorting, and separation techniques of waste. We also developed a coupon reward system where participants were rewarded for the number of plastics they collected. We are proud to say we received our 50 enrollments and as of May 2022, 10 youth have engaged in the transformation of these plastics into pavements. They are working in collaboration with us to build their skills.
Children were not left out during the program. With the ongoing pandemic, the prevalence of nature
deficit disorders, and the lack of environmental education in schools impacting environmental awareness and engagement, we took this as a motivation to create five Eco Clubs across five communities.
At the beginning of our activities, the teachers were very responsive, but the kids shied away, stating it was difficult. With the increase in outdoor activities such as tree planting, music, and Environmental Spelling Bee competitions, students got engaged and started wishing all their lessons were the programs we provided. They asked to visit zoos and botanical gardens, to see these animals for the first time, and although we haven’t yet raised funds to do a tour for the kids yet, we hope to do it in the future. One specific strategy we used during tree planting within their school milieu was their naming of these trees with their favorite cartoon series. This lifted their spirits on the designated tree planting days and provided us with positive stories from their experiences.
With the support of the CEE-Change Fellowship, the Cedar Tree Foundation, and ee360, Cepow Cameroon has successfully promoted environmental education in schools. We have created Eco Clubs in five schools with the goal of cultivating the spirit of environmentalism with the kids, as seen in this video where children are learning a song about wildlife. The aim is also to have students apply these teachings back home. Through outdoor activities, Mega Competitions, and Earth Poetry challenges, their conscious behaviors have been transformed to promote change and live with the spirit of environmentalism.
The Beat the Bottle Campaign has been able to train 50 youth on recycling plastic waste. Approximately two tons of plastic have been collected from the environment. Our network has permitted these youth to engage amongst themselves, receiving mentorship on the plastic collection and sorting, transformation, and being that difference in their community.
As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.” Together we can make our dream of a plastic-free world where environmental education is a shared reality. Change starts with you, always think locally and act globally.