The Dow initiative, Project Butterfly, is helping innovative solutions take flight to fight Africa’s plastic waste challenge. In Nairobi, Kenya, the program funds and facilitates waste clean-up activities, education campaigns, and new ways to incentivize recycling. Just as a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly, the project is reshaping mindsets, communities, and plastic waste in areas plagued by pollution and poverty.
A stagnant river clogged with trash. Air choked with toxic fumes from burning waste. Contaminated drinking water. Disease spreading through communities. Nairobi’s exponential growth and lack of waste infrastructure in struggling neighborhoods is poisoning people, the environment, and spiraling out of control.
Dow’s Project Butterfly initiative in Africa unites residents, NGOs, government agencies, educators, community leaders, and manufacturers in unique partnerships to combat the crisis. By forging these crucial collaborations, the effort helps bridge the gap between recycling buy-back centers, sorting facilitators, collectors, and recyclers. Often, it provides the first opportunity for residents to harvest waste and use it to generate wealth by collecting, sorting, and selling it to recycling organizations where it will be repurposed in a circular, renewable loop.
Despite Nairobi’s daunting amount of unmanaged garbage, inroads are being made. Dow resources and technical assistance enable the waste-preneur organization Mr. Green Africa and child development NGO ChildFund to catalyze change. River clean-up events and recycling education sessions help residents understand the impact of uncontrolled waste, spotlight ways to reverse the trend, and build enthusiasm for a cleaner future. In communities where no trash pickup forces garbage into rivers, school programs are educating a new generation of sustainability-conscious citizens.
One person at a time, Project Butterfly is changing attitudes from “waste is something I want to get rid of” to “waste is something of value and there’s a benefit to keeping it.”
New transfer shops provide an organized, sustainable system to incentivize and empower waste pickers who comb streets and dumps for plastics. Collectors receive training to make sorting more effective, bring their daily supply to the shops, and receive payment based on weight. The plastic is then sent to recycling centers and processed into raw material to create new products and packaging. As a result, marginalized waste pickers are moving out of the shadows of society and gaining new dignity and respect for the waste management role they play.
Mr. Green Africa sees Nairobi and other emerging markets as a new frontier for positive waste management change. As communities embrace the idea that plastic is too valuable to lose, family livelihoods, security, and health improve while polluted environments transform.
Project Butterfly proves the power of teamwork. For the first time, everyone from local school children and trash collectors to government officials and international development groups are collaborating, innovating, and accelerating solutions. Working together, a once-doomed river is changing course.