Planning a party or beach barbeque out at Kokrobitey this weekend? Did you know that you can have your fun, help build a community centre, and even win prizes at the same time? By Tash Morgan-Etty. Photographs: Taia Etty
Planning a party or beach barbeque out at Kokrobitey this weekend? Thinking of soaking up the sun at Bojo Beach, chilling out at Big Milly’s Backyard, savouring delicious Italian food at the colourful Kokrobitey Garden, or learning to ride the waves with Mr. Bright’s Surf School? Did you know that you could do all this and help to build a community literacy centre at the same time? How? By simply taking a few minutes to stop off in Kokrobitey village and drop off your empty plastic water or soda bottles. Even if you’re not able to do a drop-off you can still contribute to this project, prevent plastics pollution, and win fun #Bottles4Kokro competition prizes, all with very little effort. Read on to find out more.
Recycling is something that is taken for granted as a part of daily life in many Westernised countries and cities. It’s often even part of the municipal refuse collection service. Not so in Accra, which is partly why the city is struggling to deal with the over one million tons of trash its inhabitants produce each year. Accra’s only sanitary landfill facility is expected to fill completely within the next two years, and one out of three informal landfills dotted around the city is already over capacity. To add to this, a lot of people can’t afford the privatised collection services that rule the refuse routes, and so a great deal of waste is dumped on derelict land, in water ways, and ultimately makes its way out to sea. There is hope, however, in the form of Environment360, the social enterprise that created the “Evolve” program; the first successful community collection program for plastic in Ghana.
According to Environment360’s dynamic and passionate founder and executive director, Cordie Aziz, “Over 90% of trash is recyclable. The problem is that a recycling system has not been in place [in Ghana].” She has set out to change this with the goal of, “A cleaner Accra, a cleaner Ghana, and more economic opportunity.”
Supported by Voltic and Australian Aid, Evolve has seen the placement of 20 large recycling bins at key points throughout Accra, e.g. at Koala supermarkets, Du Bois Centre, Pippa’s Gym, etc. See a full list here. Forty new bins are to be added to this and installed in other convenient locations within the next few months. The Evolve program also has a collection option, for both corporates and individuals, who prefer to have their plastic, paper and tin collected from their premises. PWC, UT Bank, the US Embassy, and other organisations are benefitting from the free collection, free staff training, and various other incentives Environment360 offers in exchange for an annual Evolve membership fee. The PET plastic collected from the Evolve recycling bins is flaked and exported to Germany where it is being turned into nylon thread.
With the proceeds from Evolve Environment360 funds an environmental and recycling education initiative that has already reached 10 thousand school children in Greater Accra.“Trash is Africa’s biggest problem for the next 30 years, and there aren’t enough home-grown solutions to deal with this,” Cordie told me. “So, we try to expose kids, especially those who are unlikely to finish high school or get a university education, to green careers.” The initiative focuses on highlighting entrepreneurial, artistic, and other community focussed employment opportunities from recycling.
Over and above its on-going green graft Environment360 is currently supporting the Kokrobite Chiltern Centre in their goal of building a community literacy centre in Kokrobitey, a seaside village just outside Accra popular with surfers, backpackers, tourists, and weekend pleasure seekers, but also home to many impoverished families who do not have regular access to reading material.
Established and run by Jane and Martial Zohoungbogbo, Kokrobite Chiltern Centre works with parents and children to support kids and ensure that they are able to attend school, and gain an education. Among many other types of educational support, KCC provides a place for children to do their homework, with volunteers assisting them with it when necessary. As an extension of this, and to give the whole community access to a literacy space and reading resources,KCC is now building a multi-use community centre, including a library, out of plastic drinking bottles. Hence the connection with Environment360.
Martial kindly took me on a tour of his first plastic bottle build; a classroom at a school in the village. He explained that it had been intended as a community construction project, but that no one had seen this building method before, and so unfortunately very few members of the local community volunteered to help with building the classroom.However, now that they’ve seen and experienced the finished product, enthusiasm from the surrounding community is rapidly beginning to grow.
It was a scorching day when I visited the school, but upon entering the room I could immediately feel a very noticeable drop in temperature, especially compared to the regular brick and mortar buildings that the rest of the school is made up of. This refreshing coolness, together with the strength and flexibility of the structure being able to withstand earth tremors and flood waters, means that the school’s teachers are now competing to see who will get to teach in this special building.
Moving on to see the initial stages of the community literacy centre, I was surprised to learn that, although the building had already begun to take shape and the various rooms were clearly distinguishable, construction had only been underway for three weeks. Martial explained, “There will be a washroom, an office for the minister (because we are building this on the church’s land), a library, and seating for reading inside and all around the building; especially under the trees.”
I asked what it would take to complete the centre, and Martial had no need to consult his plans; they are etched in his mind and heart as he speaks passionately about the project. “We need roughly 45,000 bottles to finish the building, volunteers to fill the bottles with sand, and any assistance to pay for the iron poles we use for reinforcements, and the roofing, would be a huge help. The roofing is the most expensive part. Once we have everything we need we can easily finish the building within 6 weeks.”
“And it’s bullet proof”, he said proudly. “I challenge anyone to bring their pistol and try to make a hole in this building. It’s impossible!” he chuckled. I certainly wouldn’t encourage firing on such a lovely project, but at least we know that it’s likely to stand the test of time.
So, how can you help to move this project forward?
You can either donate bottles to Environment 360’s 40,000 bottles in 40 days drive at any Evolve recycle bin in Accra or Tema (see a list here) and join their #bottles4kokro selfie competition to stand a chance of winning an array of fun prizes, or you can drop bottles off directly with Martial and Jane at KCC in Kokrobitey (details below).
Currently, it’s mainly the children at the nearby school who, during their spare time, are filling bottles, collected from local hotels, restaurants, and the beach. So, you would be warmly welcomed to arrange a date and time with KCC to volunteer and fill bottles at the site (details below).
KCC, and no doubt the Kokrobitey community, would be very grateful for any assistance to cover the cost of the few items that have to be purchased for the construction, e.g. metal reinforcements, roofing, etc. For details of what’s needed, please contact Martial directly on the number below.
What can you do about waste in Accra in general?
Reduce the amount of waste you produce by becoming a conscious consumer, and purchasing fewer items wrapped in plastic and other non-biodegradable packaging. For example, for drinking water, you could choose to fill a reusable water bottle from a water dispenser instead of purchasing single-use bottles of water.
Reuse and/or repair what you can instead of always purchasing new replacements for used items, and throwing the old ones away. This saves you money too!
Recycle your plastics, aluminium cans, and paper through Environment 360 or a similar service, and actively encourage your favourite hotels, restaurants, and airlines to do the same. One bottle recycled is one less polluting our land, waterways, and the sea.