At a time when many cities around the world are drowning in plastic waste, certain unsung men and women have emerged to not only clear our waters of plastic waste, but also to prevent irreparable damage to marine life, our ecosystem and our future generations . These unsung people are “plastic garbage collectors”.
Morris Johnson is one of the many plastic garbage collectors in Agbogbloshie, a suburb of Accra. Like all other waste collectors, Morris plays an important role in the waste management and recycling industry. Despite their important contribution to the plastics supply chain, waste collectors are continually stigmatized and undervalued.
Morris makes a living collecting plastic bottles from the Korle Lagoon in Agbogbloshie. A significant amount of trash (plastic) that ends up in the Korle Lagoon comes from the major cities in Accra via the Odaw. The Korle Lagoon gathers all of these urban junks and empties them into the Gulf of Guinea northeast of the Atlantic Ocean.
“Normally after the rain, the water carries all the plastic bottles and other rubbish from all over the city and empties them here into the Korle lagoon. When that happens you will see the bottles floating on the surface so I just take the neat ones, collect them and sell them to get my daily bread. Sometimes, when the bottles are too far to reach, I pull them towards me with a stick, ”said Morris, describing his daily experience at work.
Plastic waste collectors work in dire conditions. They risk their lives by diving into the heavily polluted Korle lagoon to get plastic bottles. “My job is very difficult, but I have no choice… Sometimes, if I’m not careful, the water can take me away… We keep finding bodies in the water. There was a man who drowned during the coronavirus lockdown. He thought he was standing on solid ground without knowing that it was a heap of rubbish. So he just sank into the water and no one has seen him since. “Morris told.
The bottles that these collectors pick up are sold to recycling companies who then go through a rigorous recycling process so that they can be used again and again for new products. However, these collectors receive meager amounts in payment for their hard work. “I take the bottles by hand … I put them in mosquito nets and sell them … For every mosquito net I sell, they give me GH ₵ 30 [an equivalent of $5]. ”
In addition to their unfair wages, plastic garbage collectors are constantly being stigmatized and undervalued. Just like frontline health workers fighting the Covid-19 pandemic, plastic collectors are frontline workers fighting marine pollution. They are not recognized for their important role in defending our ecosystem.
“Some people don’t even get close to us because of our work. They think they are better than us just because we collect plastics from dirty water. Others don’t even respect us, ”said a Morris partner.
Researchers have estimated that around 8 million tons of plastic end up in the world’s oceans each year. The World Economic Forum equates this with the contents of a garbage truck being dumped into the ocean every minute. And by 2050 that number is estimated to be four garbage trucks per minute.
A 2016 study by Dyck I. suggests that plastic waste accounts for 63% of the marine debris in the Gulf of Guinea. This is a reminder of what is at stake if there is not a concerted effort to tackle plastic pollution around the world.
The work of plastic waste collectors like Morris Johnson provides an important solution to plastic pollution and is a lucrative endeavor for employment. Your efforts must be recognized, encouraged, and celebrated.
This report was produced with the support of the Ocean Solutions Micro-Grant from the Sustainable Ocean Alliance.