You are a chemical engineer, Romanian, and you run ASASE, an NGO based in Ghana. Your background seems quite unusual.
I think that this is becoming more commonplace nowadays! Many of us want to spend some of our time doing "useful things".
I used to work in the polyethylene sector for Dow Chemical. When I retired, I decided that it was time to start giving to others because I am well aware that I have received a lot throughout my career. I had the opportunity to go to Ghana to work on a solution to solve, at least partially, the problem of plastic waste left in the environment and which too often ends up in the sea.
Can you describe ASASE, your association?
The name Asase comes from Asase Yaa, the mother earth in Akan mythology and evokes the resilience and nurturing nature of the earth. I founded the Foundation with Hilda Addah, a Ghanaian woman who is an expert in community involvement, who was looking for a solution to the problem of plastic waste. Initially, she wanted to do everything possible to eliminate plastics from our lives. She has now realised their value and is raising awareness of the importance of waste management. For us, used plastics have a real monetary value and create jobs. This is especially true in countries that do not yet have a waste management system, such as here in Ghana.
Today, dozens of people work with us in the collection, logistics and reprocessing of plastics. They all chose ASASE because they share our vision! We are fortunate to work with dedicated people with whom we take action with passion following precise objectives.
Empowering Ghanaian women and recovering used plastics are the two objectives of your association. Can you explain how they fit together?
The strategy of the ASASE Foundation is to develop a circular economy designed to enable local communities to exploit the plastic waste released into the environment by collecting, reprocessing and reselling it. We are primarily looking to close the plastics loop in Ghana. We have built plastic waste collection and processing centres called CASH IT! centres. We have equipped these centres with the necessary equipment and are training people in their operational and financial management. Each centre has to be profitable, otherwise it wouldn't make sense. Initially we support them and when profitability is assured, we transfer the assets to them. Each centre thus becomes a small business, a profit centre. We also help the collectors and intermediaries, both men and women, to manage their collection operations efficiently, as they are indispensable suppliers for our CASH IT! centres.
What types of waste do you collect and where do you collect it?
We collect all types of plastic packaging waste, from PET bottles to low-density polyethylene water bags, from high-density polyethylene or polypropylene shampoo and detergent bottles to large high-density polyethylene cooking oil containers. We process polyethylene and polypropylene and sell PET to specialists who can reprocess it into fibres. We have our own collection network from which we buy the waste: residents, market managers, shops, schools, churches, etc.
We have already set up two collection centres. We have also trained collectors in the different polymers to facilitate sorting, which guarantees a minimum level of quality. Most importantly, we have engaged with the municipality and schools to carry out education and awareness-raising programmes to encourage waste sorting at source and collection.
How do the Cash it! centres work?
We built the first CASH IT! in Katamanso in the Greater Accra region. This factory buys plastic waste from the collection network that we have developed in the community and then converts it into flakes after shredding, washing and drying. The flakes are sold to recyclers who make building sheets or beams, strong bags, basins, paving stones, etc. Recently, we invested in an extruder and started to make recycled plastic pellets, which we use in particular for Alucobond, composite cladding panels made of a polymer core sandwiched between two sheets of aluminium. We now have 21 permanent employees and 20 casual workers, the majority of whom are women. All are from the local community. Most of them had no work before or were waste pickers. Today, the sustainable income and the social benefits we offer (basic medical insurance, pension scheme, personal protective equipment and vaccination, as well as ongoing technical training), make working for ASASE a source of pride.
Because on-the-job training is not enough, we have partnered with the Design and Technology Institute in Accra to gain technical expertise. This school, sponsored by the Mastercard Foundation, develops technical skills and provides management training. For us, it is an important source of personnel and many of the women technicians we hire now come from this institution.
Who are the products you make from used plastics intended for?
We aim to make products that are economically viable and primarily for our community. To ensure that there are opportunities for them, we have partnered with a talented and promising local entrepreneur.
He has built a factory that produces recycled plastic boards that mimic wood. He currently uses 2,000 tonnes of our recycled plastics per year. We have also teamed up with the University of Ghent in Belgium to improve the formulation of this material with a view to marketing it on a larger scale.
What are your medium-term objectives?
We are now benefiting from funding from Europe and the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, which we will use to expand our first CASH IT!.
It should reach a production capacity of 2,000 tonnes per year. We also plan to build two new collection centres. We plan to replicate the Asase model in two other areas of Accra. By 2024, we hope to have diverted 6,000 tonnes of waste per year from entering the ocean.
Do you plan to export your model to other African countries?
Yes, that is the ultimate goal! Our social enterprise model should be adaptable to any country like Ghana. In Africa of course, but also in all developing countries.