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Tomson Chikowero was ashamed of his job. He did not want anyone finding out what he did to earn a living, so he used to wake up early every morning and leave his home in Hatfield, a residential suburb in Zimbabwe’s capital city Harare, under the cover of darkness.
And he would return only after sunset when no one could see him carrying the bags of plastic bottles that he collected from people’s trash that day.
For the middle-class Chikowero, who was formerly employed as a builder but lost his job in 2010, collecting plastic and cardboard boxes from people’s trash to resell was embarrassing at first. But now he has become one of a handful of unlikely climate change ambassadors here.
Climate change has already had an impact on the country, with the Meteorological Service Department confirming that rainfall here has declined, while temperatures have risen in the past few years. It will, according to a study released on Mar. 21 titled Strengthening national capacity for climate change programme in Zimbabwe, place the country’s food security and economic growth at risk.
However, trash has a role to play in climate change mitigation in this southern African nation. A 2010 publication by the United Nations Environment Programme titled Waste and Climate Change said: “after waste prevention, recycling has been shown to result in the highest climate benefit compared to other waste management approaches. This appears to be the case … also in developing countries.”
Barnabas Mawire, the country director for Environment Africa, an environmental NGO, agreed that recycling is important for Zimbabwe.
“Recycling helps climate change (mitigation) a great deal…If industries recycle plastic bottles and scrap materials they will not use the same amount of energy they would use if they were making plastic or metal from scratch. If they recycle, they would use less raw materials and energy and that has been proven to reduce the carbon footprint,” he told IPS.
The United States’ Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) factsheet on recycling stated that “recycling plastics uses only roughly 10 percent of the energy it takes to make a pound of plastic from virgin materials.”
While there are no estimates on how much Zimbabwe would save in greenhouse gas emissions, recycling in the United Kingdom currently saves more than 18 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, the annual emissions of 177,879 passenger vehicles.
But many Zimbabweans are not aware of climate change or mitigation efforts. This southern African country has no climate change policy, though it is in the process of formulating one with the Climate and Development Knowledge Network.
So when Chikowero first started collecting trash he, along with the hundreds of others who sort through people’s trash to collect plastic and cardboard boxes for resale, merely did it to earn a living in a country with an unemployment rate of 70 percent. A kilogramme of plastic can be sold for between seven and 10 dollars. READ MORE