GOLD… OUT OF PLASTIC ! Protecting the environment by profiting from garbage in Burkina Faso and Senegal
Shi Jiaqi   Apr 29.2016


Year: 2006

City / Town / Village: Cuneo

Region: Europe & Former Soviet Union States


Summary: During the past years LVIA, in collaboration with a number of Local Authorities and international partners, carried out in West Africa an initiative whose purpose was to fight against the proliferation of plastic refuses, which are literally invading urban environments not only becoming a real danger for the local populations from an hygienic perspective, but also creating disasters for local farmers and breeders, polluting agricultural soils and putting in danger wild and domestic species (increasing mortality due to plastics' ingestion).

Reason to Be Selected

Through the creation of a simple market-oriented and self-sustaining plastic recycling scheme which joins together the interests of local communities, enterprises and local governments, LVIA has firstly experimented, and then replicated in several cities, a number of projects whose achievements are not only the collect and re-use of large amounts of plastic garbage (100tons/years/centre), but also the crucial change of public behaviours toward consumption and plastic-trash management, because only the adoption of more eco-compatible practices can both ensure the self-sustainability and profitability of this initiatives, thereby creating a genuine ownership by local communities.


Furthermore, the Centres we created (in Thies and Kaolack, Senegal, and in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso) represent also a concrete and sustainable way to fight against poverty, food insecurity and unemployment which are dramatic widespread phenomena in African cities.


Basically, thanks to a close collaboration with local associations, every centre offers a permanent job to about 50 people (mainly women). Their work is to buy plastic refuses collected and sold to the Centres by local people (so offering a beneficial source of revenue to about 50.000 poor), to recycle them and to sell the final product to local enterprises, which are starting a production of useful recycled objects (chairs, tubes…). In Burkina Faso we are now going to start the production of rulers, goniometers and mormographs for the local schools.
SITUATION BEFORE THE INITIATIVE BEGAN: In West African cities, poverty, unemployment and low life quality are widespread phenomena, negatively interacting with the savage urbanisation processes in progress. Waste production is increasing (180-240kg of waste/person/year, public waste collection rate <40%), and 10% of it are plastic refuses (e.g. 20,000tons/year in Ouagadougou). These are polluting the soils and killing wild and domestic animals, damaging farmers' and breeders' activities, making local hygienic conditions worse for children and their families.

Key Dates:

• 8/7/1999 : First Plastic Recycling Centre (Thies, Senegal) inaugurated

• 27/10/1999 : Signature of Partnership Agreement between LVIA and the Ministry of Environment of Senegal

• 1/5/2000 : Second Plastic Recycling Centre (Kaolack, Senegal) financed by Japan Embassy

• 10/12/2003 : First Centre of Burkina Faso (Ouagadougou) financed by the World Bank (Development Marketplace Programme)

• 10/10/2005: The European Union communicated to have approved a new project presented by LVIA and GRET (a France Ngo) aiming to realise a similar plastic recycling centre in Nouachott, Mauritania.

Type of Organization: International Agency

Name of Organization: World Bank – Development Marketplace Programme


Since the beginning, the main priority was to contribute in solving a dramatic environmental problem getting the more and more difficult to be managed in African cities, where average waste collection rates are very low (usually <40%). 

Fighting against the increasing percentage of plastic materials contained in urban refuses (traditionally used to fertilise agricultural fields), the second priority was to establish a self-sustaining mechanism by which poor people could earn money collecting and selling plastic to the Recycling Centres (PRC), and then producing something interesting for local plastic enterprises and local authorities. 

Before starting, feasibility studies have been realised in every city involving local authorities, local women associations (that are now managing the Centres) and enterprises in a perspective of synergy and reciprocal collaboration.


The main direct objective of the initiative is environmental improvement, thanks to the fact that each PRC contribute to the collect and transformation of about 100 tons/year of plastic garbage in each target city. Consequently animal mortality and chemical soil pollution are decreasing, agricultural fertility is rising, and biodiversity is better conserved. 

Secondly, the initiatives aim to contribute to poverty reduction, by offering a source of revenue to the poor and regular employment especially for the women managing the Centres.

Basically, the strategy has been to involve local institutions and local women association together  in the construction of a market-based mechanism which can promote local economic growth meanwhile improving environment and changing people behaviours, thanks to the strict collaboration between private and public sector (local CBOs, enterprises and institutions).


The first one who believed in this initiative was the Ngo LVIA itself, by realising in 1998 the first Plastic Recycling Centre in Thiés, Senegal, using its own financial, technical and human resources.

The initiative was so successful that in 1999 the European Union decided to reinforce it with some financial aid (within its “Programme Prioritaire de Génération d'Emplois”

In 1999, LVIA was demanded to duplicate the experience in other Senegalese Cities and succeeded in obtaining financial contribution from the Embassy of Japan (89,000US$), the Italian Government (366,000US$) and other decentralised Italian donors. This permitted to transfer elsewhere the initial successful experience, always trying to involve the same key actors: local CBOs trained and accompanied by LVIA to manage the Centres, local institutions (change in public policies, public awareness campaigns, research and management aspects) and local enterprises (involved to make the process economically sustainable and market-oriented).

Finally, in 2003, LVIA proposed to the World Bank to finance the duplication of the experience in/with the Municipality of Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), becoming winner of the 2003 edition of the Programme “Development Marketplace” (47 projects financed out of 3,000 participants).

Actually the European Union communicated to have approved a new project presented by LVIA and GRET (a France Ngo) aiming to realise a similar plastic recycling centre in Nouachott, Mauritania, project demanded by the Municipality of Nouakchott.


No substantial problems occurred during the implementation of these initiatives at the initial phases, as to say during the creation of the necessary institutional framework between public and private actors involved, or during the physical construction of the Plastic Recycling Centres, neither during the training activities for the women associations charged to manage the recycling “business”. 

Each partner had the interest and the desire to participate to the project at the maximum level, in order to maximize the results and their benefits. With this philosophy, the Municipalities collaborated at a political level with the private sector and the local population to achieve those objectives more linked to the improvement of urban environments, but also at a financial and technical level to decide how and where to realise the Centres. Local communities as well (CBOs but also the family level), enjoyed the decision making processes set up to promote their participation, for instance when deciding the right prices for the plastic garbage, or when programming public awareness campaigns, activities in the schools and street theatre shows. Local enterprises, finally, actively participated to the process leading the public sector to engage itself in promoting the production of recycled plastic objects of public utility to be diffused in the cities in order to improve the services for the urban population.

This process was possible thanks to the organization of frequent meetings between the parties, scientific seminars prepared with the collaboration of research institutes specialised in plastic matters, and several international missions organised to exchange experiences and expertises at a south-south and south-north level.

As said before, these efforts were so successful that people really started to change their behaviours and began to collect plastic refuses directly in their houses before bringing them to the Centres, once a month, in order to sell them making some useful money. 

However some problem occurred at a certain point of the initiative, when some technical aspects of the plastic recycling processes obliged the Centres to improve the quality of the recycled materials produced, for making it really interesting and competitive for the local enterprises, comparing with the virgin and cheaper materials normally arriving from abroad. 

This problem is not easy to overcome (it exists everywhere in the world when speaking of recycled garbage) but many efforts are now in progress concerning the improvement of technological aspects, thanks to a number of exchanges between LVIA's experiences in West Africa and other quite similar initiatives carried out in Asia (particularly Vietnam).


In each city where the initiative has been carried out, the first important result achieved was the decrease of environmental pollution, especially concerning the agricultural fields surrounding urban areas. Approximately 100 tons of plastic has been picked up by local populations each year, sold to the PRCs and then transformed by local enterprises in public utility objects. This fact not only led to an actual improvement of people's living conditions, but also to an upgrading of the economic situation of the women managing the Centres (about 40 in each city permanently employed and paid monthly) and of the families engaged in the plastic collection activities (about 5,000 people earning money by selling plastic refuses to the Centres, at 0.05 US$/kg).

Secondly, an important result was the establishment of a solid collaboration framework between public and private actors, particularly Local Authorities, research institutes, NGOs, CBOs and plastic enterprises. Without this framework, indeed, any intervention would have been not-sustainable and based on too fragile basis. 

Through the realisation of several field studies (available), the impact of each initiative has been assessed by evaluating the degree of acceptance and people's participation to the project objectives, particularly the change in people behaviours towards plastic refuses (increase of 20% of families that keep plastic garbage at home before selling it to the Centres, instead of throwing it in the environment or in the savage tips). 

Finally, among the indirect results, is important to underline the increased sensibility of the public sector towards social policies and environmental matters, particularly regarding a new partnership and involvement of the civil society in facing very complex problems such as pollution, poverty and unemployment.

By working to reach the challenge of produce directly of finished objects in the Plastic Recycling Center we imported in 2005 from Italy a Plastic Injection Moulder capable to produce little objects of 200g each one. By selling those objects (the first mould we prepared is for the production of school rulers) the women will get a real added value from their hard job.  


Financially, each PRC has gradually become totally autonomous and self-sustainable, thanks to a mechanism by which plastic refuses are paid to local population at 0.05US$/Kg and sold after processing to local enterprises at 0.2US$/Kg. The difference can guarantee salaries for the employees, for plastic purchases from people and for other costs and reinvestments to strengthen the Centre activities.

Concerning organisational sustainability, LVIA's continued technical assistance and Municipalities' institutional support are guaranteeing efficiency and efficacy of the local CBOs charged with managing the PRC since already collaborating with the Waste Management Services of the respective cities for the solid waste collection in urban and suburban areas.

Furthermore, aspects such as the socio-cultural elements have been strongly considered since the beginning of each operation. Firstly, the involvement of women associations in the Centres' management has been the main criteria used to contribute to local gender equity and socio-economic inclusion of women. Not only, indeed, a considerable number of women can now benefit from a permanent and remunerated job (also those working independently to pick up the plastic refuses selling them to the Centres); moreover, a mechanism by which women can directly contribute to change not eco-sustainable behaviours of the local population has been set up: by organising several public events through a continued process of sensitisation carried out by the same women in their families and neighbourhoods.

Finally, the efforts carried out to change production and consumption patterns concerning the plastic sector are slowly leading to important elements of sustainability such as the fact that people, instead of throwing plastic garbage away, are starting to accumulate it in their own houses before directly selling it to the Centres (fact that in the meantime permit to increase the quality of the final product transformed by the Centres for the local enterprises). Secondly, the interest for plastic recycling demonstrated by local enterprises and Local Authorities is growing, leading to an higher demand for exchanging experiences and competencies with other partners, even from other parts of the world (mainly Europe and Asia).LESSONS LEARNED:The main lesson learned from the initial projects carried out in Senegal has been the necessity to promote the construction of a solid framework between the private and the public sector, aiming to guarantee the assumption of political decisions at a local level, without which any recycling policy couldn't be really sustainable (in Africa as in Europe). This lesson has been very precious after the first experience in Thies (Senegal), where the only contribution of the Municipality was to offer a site for the Centre construction and to bring some technical assistance. The second Centre of Kaolack has seen an higher participation of Kaolack Municipality, which not only offered a site but also financially and technically participated in the management of the Centre. Recently, the experience of Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) joins a further important step, which is the assumption of a stronger responsibility toward the institutional management of the relationships between the Centre and the local plastic enterprises, as well as towards the local associations charged to manage the new PRC.A second important lesson learned has been the necessity to increase and strengthen those activities aiming to change people's behaviours and attitudes towards waste management, by involving schools, local associations, etc. in public awareness campaigns that can only be supported by an institutional engagement of public authorities. And this has been done, also thanks to the involvement of several Italian institutions which decided to support a number of decentralised cooperation activities carried out with their West African partners. 

Technically, many lessons have been incorporated in determining the ongoing and the future strategies and action plans, thanks to the exchanges promoted by LVIA with similar experiences carried out by other NGOs especially in Asia (Vietnam). In particular some technological transfer (extruding and granulating machines) are being experimented to improve the quality of recycled plastic materials transformed by the Centres and to facilitate, by doing so, their economic sustainability by making them fabricate a product more interesting for the local markets.TRANSFERABILITY:This kind of projects could be implemented elsewhere in Sahel and in the world, given that LVIA's experiences in Africa have proven to be successful, although difficult local socio-economic conditions. Indeed, the technologies used are appropriated, simple to be found locally and used even where illiteracy is common within the population.

Nevertheless, the main pre-conditions for the replication of this experience elsewhere are: the real local consciousness about the problem and the local ownership about the studied solution, the strong demand and agreement between private and public actors involved, the deep knowledge of local plastic markets and industries acquired by the promoter.

For all these reasons, after the first experience in Thies (Senegal), LVIA has promoted several public meetings (the last one in Senegal, December 2005) in order to share knowledge and experiences at a local, national and international level, before deciding to duplicate it in other African cities. 

Thus, after its pilot phase in Thies (1998), the initiative has been replicated in the City of Kaolack (Senegal), it has been realised in Ouagadougou (in Burkina Faso, thanks to the recognition of the World Bank within its Programme “Development Marketplace”) and it will soon be implemented in the City of Nouakchott (Mauritania) thanks to a grant of the European Union. In all those cases, it has been always elaborated, programmed and implemented by the Ngo LVIA, which has been called and charged to solve the “plastic” problem by the different Local Authorities involved.

Concerning the benefit obtained by LVIA from similar experiences and expertises coming from other practices, it's important to nominate the collaboration existing between LVIA and other organisation based in Senegal and in France, which permitted to establish a number of relationships with Asian partners (in particular in Vietnam), and particularly: Ecole Supérieure Polytechnique (Thiès), ENDA Tiers Monde, SEMIS (Services de l'Energie en Milieu Sahélien), PRAXIS (Ingénierie - Conseil - Développement Technologique), Ngo GRET.


Lat: 47.6694
Lng: 17.6587
Region: Europe
Scale: District
Field: Environment
City: Milan