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Surviving On Urban Waste 

By Nformi Sonde Kinsai — It is common knowledge, especially in the major towns of Cameroon, that waste disposal sites are now important sources of livelihoods to members of some families who visit such areas to sort out biodegradable and solid wastes for economic reasons. Some family heads have publicly testified how they have been able to put food on their tables, provide for the education and other needs of their children thanks to waste gathered from garbage cans in the cities.

Food remains gathered are used to feed animals while others such as discarded bottles, plastic papers, corrugated iron, dresses, shoes, etc, are sold in the markets to enhance family income. With the growing importance of waste as a source of income, some specialised enterprises are gradually setting up collection and recycling centres to transform and add value to the disposed items for re-use.

Such is the case with a Chinese-based enterprise that has implanted a branch in Yaounde, for the collection and recycling of plastic bottles and papers. That is how The Post caught up with one Paul Brice Engoh Engoh, 23, from the South Region of Cameroon, in a small stream channel in the midst of thousands of plastic bottles brought to a nearby bridge by floods in the Biyem-Assi neighbourhood of Yaounde.

Engoh Engoh and a colleague were busy gathering the plastic bottles and stuffing them in empty fertilizer bags. When The Post approached the young Cameroonians to find out what they intend to do with the plastic bottles, Engoh Engoh disclosed that they were working for a Chinese enterprise located in the Essos neighbourhood. He said they started work some three months ago and within the period, they have gathered tons of plastic bottles.

“Every day, we gather truck-loads of plastic bottles. There is a special machine that smashes them into a mass which is then sent to China for thorough washing. After that, the cleaned mass is sent back to us and we have another machine that processes it into plastic paper used in packaging water. The sachets used in packaging mineral water in small quantities for sale is being fabricated by us,” Engoh Engoh told The Post.

Maintaining that as of now only four of them as Cameroonians are working for the Chinese business outfit, Engoh Engoh noted that when they would be furnished with a machine that washes the smashed plastic mass, then the recycling factory would be complete. He noted when he watched waste recycling factories in Europe and the enormous jobs and wealth they generate, he said to himself that the initiative was worth venturing into in Cameroon.

“The initiative is fetching us a lot of money. Cameroon is a very rich country and we need only to be innovative in order to progress. As a beginner, the enterprise pays a basic salary of FCFA 55,000 at the end of the month and the amount increases as one puts in more years. Children in neighbourhoods are also financially motivated to gather and keep plastic bottles for us to pass around and collect,” Engoh Engoh narrated to The Post.

Concerning measures taken to ensure the health of the workers whose job sites are waste disposal cans, filthy and highly polluted water channels in the city of Yaounde, he said the enterprise provides them with strong protective apparatus such as nose mask, gloves and rain boats. Engoh Engoh who is also the Works Controller at the enterprise, said, as a prerequisite for recruitment, each worker must undergo a medical check up including HIV/AIDS screening. “In addition, we are provided protective drugs every week,” he disclosed.

Engoh Engoh said people have been expressing worries that the bottles would be used in retailing water to them or filling oil for sale in the markets. He said all along they have been explaining that the collected plastic bottles are for recycling by a factory for the fabrication of plastic papers.

In a message to his peers, Engoh Engoh stated: “instead of us crossing our hands and looking up for our parents to provide everything, we should be imaginative, search around and get something doing. If not, the next thing will be for us to go and steal,” he held.

According to the scavenger, officials of the Yaounde City Council need to come in and motivate them as he argued that through their activities, they are also helping to keep the environment clean and reducing the rate of breeding by mosquitoes the cause malaria.

First published in The Post print edition no 01391

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