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18 Jun 2018 - Bashiru Brima, 21, is not your regular tailor. Living in the slum community of Cockle Bay, in Sierra Leone's capital city, he has been fashioning bags, mats and hats out of plastic refuse, while educating his fellow villagers to reclaim waste rather than let it pile up.

“I learnt a lot. If we continue, the country will be clean. And this could be my own career.”

Basher Brima fashions bags, mats and hats out of plastic refuse. © Lilah Gaafar


Plastic waste is a major problem in the slums bordering Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital city. Water sachets (commonly used as drinking containers in the country), empty bottles and jerrycans litter the streets and clog up drains, causing flooding in disaster-prone areas.

There is no waste transfer center in Freetown. © Lilah Gaafar

Sierra Leone is among the top most vulnerable countries to climate change, and with an average rainfall of 3,600 litres (the equivalent of about 18 bathtubs) per square metre per year, flooding affects the country on a recurrent basis.

The devastating flash flooding and landslide that killed thousands in Freetown in August 2017 illustrates how the accumulation of plastics in drainage systems, compounded by poor city planning, exacerbates the problem. Last year’s flooding displaced 5,000 slum dwellers in Freetown alone and caused significant financial losses.

Plastic waste also poses public health issues, as blocked drainage causes water to stagnate and mosquitoes to breed in a region where malaria is endemic. In times of floods, water contaminated by mud and waste is washed into open drinking water wells and can lead to disease

Aftermath of the 2017 landslide. © Linnea Van Wagenen

Local residents line up for emergency help, after the 2017 landslide. © Caroline Thomas

Blocked drainage causes water to stagnate. © Alpha Sesay

Graves for the victims of the deadly 2017 landslide. © Alpha Sesay


There is no waste transfer center in Freetown, nowhere to sort garbage and separate what can be used for compost or recycling.

It costs 2,000 Leones to dispose of a rice bag of garbage, says UNDP’s Thorsten Kallnischkies, Geologist and Waste Management Expert.

As much as 80 % of Freetown’s waste could be recycled or used as compost.

Kallnischkies, who has worked on almost 200 dumpsites around the world, says recycling and removing garbage from the cities' overflowing drains saves people's money, while also tackling youth unemployment.

Cleaning the drains that plastics and trash keep blocking. © Lilah Gaafar

Turning plastic into tiles. © Lilah Gaafar

With a 400,000 $ budget, UNDP Sierra Leone launched a skills training on waste recycling for 150 youths (120 women and 30 men) in 8 slum communities around Freetown, with the aim to empower them financially and ultimately allow them to afford decent housing out of the slums.

The project works with local women’s organizations, providing funds to mobilize the communities, establishing waste management committees, and equipping participants with cleanup tools and storage for raw materials. With UNDP support, the associations also develop strategies with plastic producing companies for safe disposal.

CONTINUE READING HERE: https://stories.undp.org/solving-freetowns-waste-problem

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Plastic pollution
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Marine pollution