Managing plastic waste with African refugee communities, this organisation is making strive towards a sustainable future
Uganda, a landlocked country in the African continent, is facing a dual problem.
It is one of the largest refugee-hosting nations in the world. At the same time, the Ministry of Water and Environment of Uganda considers plastic waste disastrous to urban and rural areas due to poor disposal practices.
This is where Ecomak Recyclers, a Ugandan startup, comes into the picture.
The company’s founder and CEO, Ronald Mugaiga, is working tirelessly to fight plastic waste and provide employment to refugees. Now, the question is – how does this idea of recycling waste plastic and involving refugees in working with the startup come to his mind?
Working for a cause
Mugaiga grew up in a refugee settlement in western Uganda. “My family shifted here in the mid-90s. While growing up with a single mom, I have seen the hardships. I was fortunate to receive schooling and completed my higher education with an engineering degree,” said Mugaiga.
Ronald holds a Bachelor of Science in Biosystems Engineering from Gulu University and a Diploma in Environmental Management.
He added, “I thought of doing something for my community and started working on the project to eradicate the plastic waste menace and create jobs and a source of income to support their family and meet basic needs.”
Ecomak Recyclers enhances waste management in refugee settlements, promotes sustainability among local businesses, and advances the circular economy.
Moreover, the cost of building materials is rising in Uganda; hence Ronald aims to provide alternative and affordable building materials for people to live in their own houses. The intention is to reach out to slum areas and marginalised communities.
To that end, the startup has developed a unique process known as organo-technology. This chemical-free and energy-saving exclusion technology improve plastic’s melting while preserving its physical attributes. The melted plastic is then utilized to create significantly stronger bricks than conventional bricks, immune to breakage, long-lasting, and durable.
Additionally, these bricks are more cost-effective, being 30% less expensive than traditional bricks, making them an attractive option for real estate and construction companies.
Improving lives in the process
“With my startup, I am creating employment opportunities for people living in slums, refugee settlements, and the marginalised. I have witnessed such challenges in my childhood and don’t want the same for others,” said Mugaiga.
Further, Mugaiga reaches out to communities to generate awareness regarding poor waste management, encourage proper waste management in respective households, and inform them how to manage their houses properly.
People from marginalised communities benefit from selling waste to the company. The startup mobilises people in groups where they move around and collect plastic waste, providing them with money for each kg of plastic.
“We have increased their income from $1 to $5 per day,” Mugaiga said.
“When I move around such settlements, I feel happy as mothers come out of their homes to thank me for bringing a change in their lives, helping them in terms of job, health, and employment,” he added.
“Such smiles on their faces further strengthen my urge to work more for my people,” said Mugaiga.
Plastic waste produced globally has doubled in the past 20 years. The majority ends up in landfills, is burned, or pollutes the environment, while only 9% is properly recycled, as per a report from OECD. It remains one of the major causes of climate change.
“Climate change is affecting us. We are witnessing uneven seasons change, agricultural crises, regular flooding, and deforestation in Uganda,” said Mugaiga.
“It is a continuous fight for individuals, institutions, organisations and even for the government,” he concluded.
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