In 1907 the invention of Bakelite, the first plastic made from synthetic components, brought about a revolution in materials by introducing truly synthetic plastic resins into world commerce.
This invention created for the world a new pollutant in the form of the accumulation of artificial products to the point where they create problems for wildlife and their habitats as well as for human populations in the environment.
By the end of the 20th century plastics proved to be persistent polluters of many environmental niches, from Mount Everest to the bottom of the sea. Often they are mistaken for food by animals, or flood low-lying areas by clogging drainage systems, or simply causing significant aesthetic disfigurement. Plastic have attracted increasing attention as a large-scale pollutant.
Plastic pollution has increasingly become a major nuisance and poses significant threats to the environment in Lesotho which still has no clear legislation on pollution.
One company has taken the bold step to recover and recycle plastic waste and reprocesses it into functional and useful products.
Pheha Plastic aims to recycle plastic to reduce the high rates of plastic pollution. To find out more about the company, its goals and the importance of recycling plastic, Public Eye reporter MATHATISI SEBUSI (PE) this week had a one on one conversation with the company’s founder, LIMPHO THOAHLANE (LT).
PE: What is Pheha Plastic? What do you do and please tell us about your objectives?
LT: Pheha Plastic is a not-for-profit recycling company and environmental awareness centre.
Our mission is to become the destination option of waste plastic in order to contribute to a green Lesotho and to be ambassadors of a clean Lesotho by educating and equipping our community with the necessary information and tools as part of a culture that seeks to address climate change in their everyday lives.
Our main aim as an entity is not just to recycle plastic but to keep the environment clean while also producing amazing products from what was once a trash. We want this initiative to also benefit not only our community but the entire country.
PE: When and how did it all start?
LT: How it started? One word, Twitter.
I attended a social media workshop at The Hub in Morija which encouraged us to be intentional with our social media. I therefore started to post content or information that I thought would be helpful and was active in doing so after I met the British High Commission where we discussed ideas and ways to teach climate change.
So, I decided that I would do that on my twitter, then a company named Hirundo Energy from Belgium approached me on twitter. They said they were amazed at the work that I was doing in Morija and they acquired funding from the Flemish government to buy the machines we have and then partnered with me. I had told them before that I wanted to start a plastic recycling company.
PE: What was the motivating factor propelling you towards this initiative?
LT: Honestly, I saw a plastic problem and I thought the solution would be to recycle it.
PE: Why is recycling plastic important and what is the impact of plastic on the environment?
LT: Plastic doesn’t go away – the plastic lying in the water and on the ground breaks down into many very small pieces that go into the soil and water. Ultimately, we eat these and they can affect our health. Plastic takes 450 years to decompose and some items can even take up to 1 000 years.
PE: How do you collect plastic for recycling? Do you go around collecting on the streets or do you have people bringing plastic to you?
LT: We have collection spots in Maseru and Morija, in town we collect at the Alliance Francaise, at Café What and Scenery Guest House while in Morija we pick waste up at the Morija museum and archives, The HUB Morija and Morija Arts Centre. We also have people coming to our doors bringing plastic.
PE: What exactly do you do with plastic?
LT: We make products that we will be selling at retail outlets soon.
PE: Would you say as a collective Basotho are aware of the impact of plastic on the environment?
LT: I would say not as much as they should, seeing from the people coming to us and the interactions we have been having with them. Our education system needs to prioritise climate activism.
PE: What needs to be done to conserve the environment and attain a plastic-free Lesotho?
LT: As I outlined at a recent UNDP stakeholders meeting before we start talking about recycling, we must first analyse what kind of waste there is in Lesotho and specific places around us.
Second, we should focus on the household: Changing the mentality from when one leaves the house to the dongas, and new shopping habits that look for products that are recyclable. We should opt for re-using plastic, bringing one’s own grocery bag to a village shop. We should be working with nature and not against it.
Then there’s the community level where we organise clean-ups, lobby chieftainship and municipal government to create garbage disposal options and to champion the efforts of recyclers.
They are at the centre of distribution of information in the villages.
We have government which enacts legislation for us citizens, fines for littering, proper infrastructure for garbage collection and recycling, not just for plastic, tin, glass, paper and household waste.
Our last focal point should be the manufacturers of plastic. If you are going to make plastic, at least use one that is recyclable and for crying out loud, Label it!
PE: Is the government acknowledging your efforts in the fight against plastic pollution? How are you being supported if there’s such?
LT: I would hope that they know, although before the machines arrived I told Ntate Rakuoane (Lekhetho Rakuoane, Minister of Environment at the time of the interview) and we are still awaiting his visit and possible collaboration.
PE: How has been the response from the communities within which you work?
LT: There has been a positive encouragement from the community and people around us?
PE: Apart from recycling plastic what else do you do in your endeavours to help save the environment?
LT: I work with The Hub to create educational awareness animations on climate change.
PE: What has been your biggest achievement in this journey? Any challenges?
LT: Getting started with this project, that has really been our biggest achievement, coupled with our looking forward to learning more and educating others.
PE: How many job opportunities have you managed to create?
LT: There are currently four: two females and two males employed.
PE: Looking at our country’s pollution levels at this particular moment, plastic pollution to be precise…is there hope for a day that we will be plastic free?
LT: I believe if we all work together we can have a single-use plastic-free Lesotho.
PE: Who can you say are the biggest plastic polluters, and why?
LT: Manufactures of plastic are the world’s biggest polluters, with very little effort to help recycle the plastics that they themselves are creating.