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Colombia, Uganda Find Alternative to Plastic Waste


People around the world use disposable plastic containers for water, food and other uses. They are lightweight and useful. If not thrown away correctly, however, these plastics can pollute water systems and damage the environment. Plastic waste is a real problem in many poor countries. But one African and one South American country have turned what is a real problem into a real profit.

Hundreds of people in the capital of Uganda, Kampala, collect waste that blocks the city’s drainage systems.

David Kibande is one of the people who helps collect plastic waste in the Ugandan capital. He supervises about 10 other collectors. He and the other workers gather up to 10 tons of plastic waste a week. They sell what they collect for about seven U.S. cents per kilogram. Mr. Kibande says the people he supervises would not have a job otherwise. They are able to make a living while helping to clean up the city.

More than half of the trash in Uganda's capital is left uncollected by city workers. Much of it ends up in drains, natural waterways, streets and undeveloped land. Environment experts say that about 600 tons of plastic are thrown away in Kampala every day.

The Plastic Recycling Institute is a private company helping with Uganda’s plastic problems. The plant hires people like David Kibande to collect plastic waste for recycling. The Kampala plant recycles 650 kilograms of plastic per hour. More than 3 million kilograms of plastic are recycled each year.

Jean-Baptiste Bitamazire is the manager of the Plastic Recycling Institute. He says that without the recycling plant, all the plastics collected would be in rivers and streets.

The plastics are separated by size and washed. Then they are prepared for the manufacturing of other plastic products, including floor and roof materials for homes.

In South America, one private organization in Colombia is teaching people about reusing plastic waste. The group is called Organizmo. The workers teach students how to mix plastic bottles with sand, clay and straw to build homes in central Colombia.

Ana Maria Gutierez is the founder of Organizmo. She says that people should understand what happens to plastic products after they are used. She adds that a better understanding can lead to better methods of recycling and reuse of materials.

Students from Colombia and other countries learn how to use waste and natural material to build "green," or environmentally friendly, farm houses. These farm houses include rain water treatment systems and toilets designed to reuse human waste.

Lucia Cano is an architect from Spain. She says she came to Colombia to learn how to include care of the environment in the buildings she designs.

She says 40 percent of carbon-based air pollutants come from construction all over the world. Ms. Cano adds that architects should think about potential harm to future generations of people. She says they should work to prevent the destruction of the Earth.

Some environmental experts say conservation does not need to cost a lot of money. They say it only takes hard work and dedication to develop good habits.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

Zlatica Hoke wrote this story from Washington. Jonathan Evans wrote it for Learning English. Mario Ritter edited it.

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Words in this Story

disposableadj. made to be used once or only a few times; made to be thrown away after one use or several uses

drainn. something such as a pipe that is used for removing a liquid from a place or container

pollutant n. substance that makes land, water, or air dirty and not safe or suitable to use; something that causes pollution

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