Visionary Helps Refugee Camp Recycling All of its Trash into New Products
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A refugee camp in the northern Sahara that relies on international aid for everything has gotten their hands on small, relatively-portable plastic recycling machines to turn the camp’s waste plastic into furniture, bricks, and other useful objects.
For years, pallets of supplies containing food, water, and medicine would arrive—then they went into a sandy, makeshift landfill. Now that waste is being placed in two machines, which either presses plastic waste into sheets, or melts itinto blocks.
Far from being just another line of government aid, Precious Plastic — which was started by Dave Hakkens as part of his studies at the Design Academy in Eindhoven in 2012—is fully-intending to train a workforce at the camp. It will donate the machines, and let the people build their own business there.
Entrepreneurship goes a long way in helping alleviate poverty, and the Precious Plastic project understands this.
At the camp there is a “large refugee population there with a high unemployment rate,” Joseph Klatt, managing director at Precious Plastic, told Adele Peters at Fast Company.
“Everything is brought into the camps, so there’s not a lot of economic activity going on. And secondarily, there’s a lot of waste in the camp. [This solution helps in the creation of] a new business from processing the plastic waste and providing some economic activity for the refugees.”
The machines were packed up into a single shipping container in 2021—which included shredders, washer/dryers, smelters, and presses.
After some introductory instruction, refugees at the camp got on with making benches, chairs, and desks for the school, and tea sets to support the Sahara’s most widespread drinking habit.
Precious Plastic isn’t a humanitarian aid group though; they call themselves an open hardware plastic recycling project, and they want anyone around the world who cares about the plastic pollution problem to start their own recycling business using their machines.
They even offer business starter kits, including work sheets and logos to help kickstart operations. All Precious Plastic businesses are connected to all others via the use of open source technology, allowing entrepreneurs to share best practices and operating data.
On their website, users can expand operations by purchasing more equipment, community-made molds for making products, and even shop for final products themselves, which far from looking like they’re made of LEGO bricks, tend instead towards looking like tie-dye artworks or watercolors.