Zimbabwe’s Elderly Turn Plastic Waste into Prosperity

Senior Citizens' Innovative Recycling Efforts Transform Community and Environment

by Adenike Adeodun

In Zimbabwe, senior citizens are unconventionally battling economic hardships. They have become plastic waste collectors, turning trash into treasure. This initiative not only provides them with financial support but also helps clean the environment.

According to a report by Newsday Zimbabwe, Tabeth Gowere, 76, and Elizabeth Makufa, 81, from Harare’s Glenora suburb, are leading this change. They have gained local fame as plastic waste collectors. They weave various products using discarded plastics, including decorative mats, turning a problem into an opportunity.

Gowere shared with IPS how they initially burned plastic waste before realizing its potential. “We started weaving different things from plastics and earning money. People were impressed and began ordering our products,” she said.

Makufa found a similar path to sustainability. “I make up to 30 US dollars daily selling products made from plastic waste. It helps me survive,” she told IPS.

Younger generations are learning from these senior entrepreneurs. Michelle Gowere, 40, learned this skill from her mother-in-law, Mrs. Gowere. “It’s helping me support my children,” she said. This skill-sharing is benefiting both the environment and the community.

The local environment has become a secondary beneficiary of this initiative. Michelle added, “Since waste collectors rarely visit our area, our plastic recycling helps keep the environment clean.”

However, Makufa emphasizes that their motive was not just monetary. “We started collecting plastic waste to improve our environment. We realized we could make impressive products to sell,” she said.

Local authorities recognize and appreciate these efforts. Innocent Ruwende, spokesperson for Harare City Council, stated, “Caring for the environment is everyone’s duty. We commend people realizing the value in plastic waste. It’s not just about recycling for money; it’s about everyone playing their part.”

Priscilla Gavi, director of Help Age Zimbabwe, a non-governmental organization, highlights the elderly’s crucial role in fighting plastic waste. “Old age doesn’t stop someone from contributing. The elderly are using their skills to turn plastic waste into products for sale,” Gavi said.

For many like Makufa, this venture has also become therapeutic. “Making things with plastic waste helps us rest from mental stress. It keeps us occupied and away from overthinking,” she explained.

The Environmental Management Agency (Ema) reports that Zimbabwe produces an estimated 1.65 million tonnes of waste annually, with plastic comprising 18%. Gowere, Makufa, and other elderly recyclers have won the admiration of organizations like Ema.

Amkela Sidange, spokesperson for Ema, commended the initiative. “It promotes upcycling of waste and recycling as a business. This reduces landfill waste and prevents harmful environmental impacts,” Sidange told IPS.

In conclusion, Zimbabwe’s senior citizens are not only finding economic solace in plastic waste recycling but also contributing significantly to environmental conservation. Their efforts serve as an inspiring model for sustainable living and community involvement.

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