Infrastructure development is a key driver for progress across Africa and a critical enabler for sustainable economic growth - but we do not have infrastructure. However, communities across the continent have stopped waiting for the government or elected officials to come to their aid - or just do their jobs.
And according to statistics by the World Economic Forum, by the year 2050, there will be more plastic waste in our oceans than there are fish as an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the oceans each year, harming animals and ecosystems. We are being overtaken by waste but thankfully, people have been devising new approaches to manage waste.
In Ghana, a former factory hand for Ashaiman (an engineering company in Ghana) may have found a new way to deal with the polymers contaminating our environments. Nelson Boateng, a Ghana-born network engineer, recently developed a form of asphalt recycled from Ghana's plastic waste, particularly plastic bags, which is used to pave roads and pavements. He came up with the idea after plastic bags were banned in Ghana, in an effort to combat the escalating problem of plastic pollution.
In 2017, he built his own recycling machine from scrap metal, electrical wires and motors, and eight months after, started operations to collect and recycle almost 2000kg of plastic waste from Ashaiman areas—laying some of the plastic pavement blocks free of charge, back in his community. Ghana produces 22,000 tonnes plastic waste annually according to Trashy Bags, out of which the country recycles only 2%, with the remaining 98% usually dumped on land fields.
Nelson’s new form of asphalt is made from 60% plastic waste and 40% sand, compared with traditional asphalt, which is made almost completely with aggregate sand.
Nelson believes that just like plastics take about 500 years before they start decomposing, the plastic pavement blocks should last 500 years as they are hard to rot and last longer than cement, and he is now paving roads throughout Ghana with his company, Nelplast, which directly and indirectly employs more than 230 people. He has now gained the support of the Ghanaian government.
Nelson is literally turning mountains of trash into a functional product that is crucial to the handling of the world’s waste problem, and Africa is greener for it.