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Zambia’s plastics recyclers gear up

Mwansa Matokwani (right) is fighting not just plastic waste but illiteracy.

A delegation of African innovators came to the IFAT expo in Munich to share their best practices. They included Mwansa Matokwani who told how she is trying to ‘reshape’ plastics recycling in her native Zambia.

‘Our journey started not too long ago but we already have our feet firmly on the ground with a rapidly growing crew and user base,’ explains Matokwani, an environmental scientist from Siavonga who founded the Maluwa Foundation in 2017.

She tells Recycling International her mission is two-fold: to get companies more involved and for people to finally take recycling seriously. ‘For this to be possible, we need proper recycling infrastructure. It’s something I’m fighting for by creating links between local producers and consumers.’

Meanwhile, Matokwani is exchanging know-how about circular business models with fellow scientists and researchers at European universities including Bonn in Germany. As a result, she has set up several outreach programmes and clean-up campaigns targeting the shores of Lake Karib as well as city hotspots.

‘I am proud to say we have collected almost 20 000 tonnes of plastic containers and bottles for recycling in a year. That’s a big step up considering we started at pretty much square one.’

The collected material is sent to local cement factories. ‘You could say we are trying to improve infrastructure in two areas; sustainability and construction,’ Matokwani adds.

Her organisation has created many jobs over the last five years. Some are waste pickers, others are sorters or mentors who train newcomers and speak at schools and companies across the country. ‘Most are women, young women especially,’ Matokwani points out. ‘We teach them that waste is a valuable resource; one that can earn them a profit if their team can jointly collect at least 30kg per day. That’s all the incentive they need. They want to be independent.’

The entrepreneur, who is a specialist in toxicology, takes it a step further by fighting not just plastic waste but illiteracy. ‘With my foundation, I want to empower people. To equip them with practical skills so they can find a meaningful job. On day one they may be a waste picker or sorter – but who knows what the future holds?’

She has also set up a special youth group to help give youngsters a fresh start. ‘I want to take them out of a dangerous situation often marked by domestic violence and substance abuse – to give them hope. If you want to make an impact in Africa, you have to go beyond just cleaning up the mess. You have to build a deep connection, to include people in the conversation.’

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