Recycling Plastic Bags

Somalian refugees in the Ethiopian refugee camp of Keribeyah reuse plastic bags they find on the street to weave table covers, mattresses and pillows.

The relief agency ZOA initiated this project by establishing a workshop where a group of 60 women, both refugees and locals, worked six days a week to transform rubbish into handicraft. They produced floor and door mats, table covers, mattresses, pillows, schools bags, baskets and caps, from plastic bags, which they sell on the local market.

Somali refugee Zeineb Jamma Elmi cuts thread from a mat she is making from plastic bags. © UNHCR/K.Gebre Egziabher

The project has several positive effects: First it means clearing the environment of rubbish. Plastic bags are especially a menace because livestock eat them and can die from intestinal blockages. The project also provides income generation for different groups of people: ZOA pays people collecting the plastic bags per kilogramm of material delivered. The project means employment and income for the women who on it. The products sell well and are increasingly popular in the local community and are capable of generating a solid income.

This income generation prevents women from having to turn to their previous source of income, the collection of firewood, which brings with it the devastating ecological effect of deforestation and enhanced desertification. The collection of firewood has also lead to conflicts with local farmers, whereas, this project improves the relation between refugees and locals. Finally, the additional income enables the women to send some of their children to school. Thus, the project has positive impacts on aspects of ecology, income generation, social stability and development.

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