Mrs. Esther Oguki-Atakpa Ewoè: president of the NGO Environnement Plus
Bernard Messan Atakpa: manager of Environnement Plus
Modeste Sedor: coordinator of Environnement Plus
Eric: plastic waste collector in Nukafu neighbourhood
Kofi Nagbe: plastic waste collector in Gbossimé neighbourhood
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Host: Hello everyone, and thank you for joining us for this show on Légende FM. My name is Bonaventure N’Coué Mawuvi. We are gathered here today to talk about plastic waste management in Togo’s capital city, Lomé. We will be speaking with officials of the NGO Environnement Plus. That organization has launched a program to buy plastic waste from people in the city. This effort will bring back the beauty of our capital city and protect our common environment. But first we’ll take a short break.
Host: The city of Lomé has been a distressing scene for a while now. Plastic bags are all over the streets. This situation seriously threatens the good looks of the city. How did we get to this? What must we do to make our city clean? Our guests will answer these questions as they kindly welcome us to their offices. The offices are located in Tokoin Solidarité neighborhood, not far from the Collège d’Enseignement Général, north of Lomé.
To discuss this topic, we have with us Mrs. Esther Oguki-Atakpa Ewoè, the president of the NGO Environnement Plus. She is with her collaborators Bernard Messan Atakpa, a manager in the NGO, and Modeste Sedor, the coordinator of the organization.
Host: Tell us, Mrs. President, what motivated you to start buying plastic waste?
Mrs. Esther Oguki-Atakpa Ewoè: We noticed that our cities were very dirty and very polluted with plastic waste. The waste clogs the sewage system, the rivers and everything. So, we decided to buy the plastic bags back from people.
Host: How do you buy this plastic waste? Mr. Bernard Messan Atakpa?
Bernard Messan Atakpa: We use sheds built throughout the city of Lomé for the collection and storage of plastic waste. We currently have 12 sheds that are operational and four that we just installed and for which we are training collection agents. So, in the short term, we want to buy this plastic waste back from people. But in the long term, we want people to get in the habit of not throwing plastic waste in the streets of our cities.
Host: What are you trying to achieve through this activity?
Bernard Messan Atakpa: The plastic bags have an impact on the environment. If you pay attention during rainy seasons, you’ll notice that they clog sewage systems and pollute the environment. When those bags are in the soil, it takes them hundreds of years before they break down. When they get buried in the soil, they clog the soil’s drainage system. These bags prevent water from infiltrating into the ground. When water is retained on or near the surface of the soil, mosquitoes breed and the potential for transmission of malaria increases.
We can also see open-air rubbish dumps multiplying throughout the city. This negatively affects the image of the city of Lomé. So, we set up this initiative to encourage people to give a new look to the Togolese capital, and to change the image of Togo in general.
Host: Mr. Modeste Sedor?
Modeste Sedor: As mentioned, plastic bags do not disintegrate by themselves in nature like domestic, organic waste. This is why there is an emergency. We must rid the city of those bags to allow rainwater to run freely and to infiltrate into the soil.
Plastic bags are not biodegradable. If buried in the soil, they prevent water from penetrating into the deeper soil. Look what is happening in Adakpamé neighbourhood and the neighbourhoods in the eastern part of Lomé. (Editor’s note: This problem also occurs in Kibera, Kenya’s largest slum, and very possibly elsewhere.) A small amount of rain, and there is flooding. The soil cannot absorb any more rainwater. The soil is waterlogged, so water cannot infiltrate because it is blocked by the bags buried in the soil due to city dwellers’ actions.
Host: Listeners, I remind you that we are in the offices of the NGO Environnement Plus. And we are talking with representatives of that organization about the management of plastic waste in Lomé.
Before we continue with our interviews, let’s listen to two collection agents from Environnement Plus whom we met earlier at their workplace.
Fade in sound of horns, motorcyclists and itinerant salespersons, then fade under host and hold
Host: Please tell me how you purchase the plastic bags.
Kofi Nagbe: We pay 75 francs per kilogram of plastic waste. So, when clients arrive here, we have a scale ready for use in our shed, and clients can see for themselves how much their plastic weighs. Once the weight is determined, we give them the corresponding amount of money.
Host: Do you have any problems with the clients?
Kofi Nagbe: Oh yes, there are problems. But you shouldn’t blame clients for causing problems; you need to educate them.
Host: What kind of problems do you have?
Eric: Sometimes, some clients leave debris in the bags.
Host: What kind of debris?
Eric: Sand, for instance. Bags are weighed before they are bought. Some clients cheat by leaving some sand in the bags so that they will weigh more. There are also some clients who mix rice sacks with plastic bags. However, we do not collect rice sacks.
Another problem that we are facing is that we have only a certain amount of money that we must use to buy the packages of plastic bags. After we have used up that money, we stop buying. This can cause verbal disputes between the plastic bag collectors and the sellers. There are also clients who come with products that we do not take, such as plastic cans and plastic serving plates. So, we try to explain the situation to them.
Host: How much do you spend on purchasing plastic bags per day?
Eric: Fifteen thousand CFA francs (Editor’s note: about 31 US dollars or 23 Euros), which represents 200 kilograms for our dump shed in Nukafu neighborhood.
Fade up sound of horns, motorcyclists and itinerant salespersons for two seconds, then fade out
Host: That was Kofi Nagbe and Eric, both collection agents for the NGO Environnement Pluswhom we met in the field. Back to the interviews in the office. Tell us, madam, gentlemen, if there have been obstacles to the implementation of this project.
Bernard Messan Atakpa: We are having some difficulties at the purchase points especially when clients come with a lot of bags. Once the money reserved for daily purchases has all been spent, they must wait until the next day, a situation they don’t like.
Host: This is what we heard from your collection agents. So, there are more bags to buy daily than there is money available?
Bernard Messan Atakpa: Yes. We’re in our fourth month of activity. We have 138 tonnes in storage. We buy 1500 kilograms per day.
Host: What do you do with the bags after buying them?
Bernard Messan Atakpa: Presently, we’re just working on collecting this plastic waste. But there’s an idea behind this. There are NGOs and businesses that buy this plastic waste and recycle it.
Modeste Sedor: Yes, there are projects that are being implemented to purchase the bags we are collecting, and to recycle them.
Host: What’s the purpose of this recycling?
Modeste Sedor: For example, manufacturing of paving stones and school slates.
Host: School slates! So, what have you noticed since you started this activity? Are Lomé’s people motivated?
Bernard Messan Atakpa: Yes, I would say that people are motivated, because they understand the message. We do notice a change on some streets in the city. There is a decrease in the number of plastic bags on our streets. And in the neighbourhoods where we have installed our sheds, we see that the environment is clean.
Modeste Sedor: In addition to collecting waste, we also have a communication program. Some of this is done through radio, in partnership with some local stations. People are starting to understand that plastic bags are not just waste items, even those people who are not close to collection points. Plastic bags are becoming an economic good. People can collect plastic bags in very remote areas, and then come to our purchase points to sell their bags.
We have already received some feedback. Already people on the street tell us that there are no longer any bags left here and there. These “city flowers” or “itinerant bags,” as people call them – we don’t see them so much anymore.
Host: Before recording this program with you, madam, gentlemen, we interviewed a few people on the street to get their opinion about your initiative. We’ll listen to them in this vox pop.
Street sounds – cars, motorcycles, people talking, etc. Fade and hold under vox pops.
Vox pop 1: I think that it’s a good project, since this action allows us city dwellers to be aware and to be careful with the bags we carry around in our hands.
Vox pop 2: It’s a good thing; they must be encouraged to continue. This makes the city clean, and that’s good.
Vox pop 3: This activity is about all of us. But the NGO doesn’t cover all the capital. I don’t know how it will be able to clean up the hundreds of thousands of plastic bags in the city.
Vox pop 4: Listen, I don’t know where those people find money to do things like this. Are they not fooling us? We’re having local elections soon, you know what I mean?
Fade up street sounds and hold for two seconds, then fade out
Host: What do you think about those reactions?
Mrs. Esther Oguki-Atakpa Ewoè: These are good reactions. I believe that these people are perfectly right. We must cover the whole city to significantly reduce the number of plastic bags. But you see the small number of sheds we have. I believe that it is only step-by-step that we will conquer the whole city.
Host: Where did you find the money to do this noble activity? Madam? Gentlemen? Yes, Mrs. President.
Mrs. Esther Oguki-Atakpa Ewoè: In the beginning, we started with our own funds. Later on, the President of the Republic also supported us.
Host: Was this enough to meet your budget?
Mrs. Esther Oguki-Atakpa Ewoè: It’s still insufficient, because the demand is so high.
Modeste Sedor: We currently have only 12 collection points. But a hundred would not be enough.
Mrs. Esther Oguki-Atakpa Ewoè: Yes, we need at least 100 sheds for the city of Lomé.
Host: Have you ever been approached by people who have projects to recycle plastic bags?
Modeste Sedor: Of course. There is competition among NGOs to buy plastic waste back from us.
Host: Well, it’s a very good activity. If there’s competition to obtain the bags that you buy back, that’s very good. So, what request will you make to decision-makers so that this activity doesn’t stop after going so well? Mrs. President?
Mrs. Esther Oguki-Atakpa Ewoè: We are asking business owners to help us, to support us in our activities.
Bernard Messan Atakpa: (Continuing her thought) … so that we can progress, so that we meet our objective, which is Togo without plastic waste.
Host: This show is coming to an end. We thank Mrs. Esther Oguki-Atakpa Ewoè, the President of the Environnement Plus NGO, who kindly agreed to welcome us in the offices of her association. We also thank her collaborators, Bernard Messan Atakpa, Modeste Sedor, Kofi Nagbé, and Eric, who answered our questions. We have talked about the management of plastic waste in Lomé with the NGO Environnement Plus. This NGO buys back all kinds of plastic bags, to fight against the multiplication of waste in the streets of Lomé and the clogging of sewage systems, which is one of the causes of flooding in our country. Thank you all for joining us. Enjoy the rest of the program.
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