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Kenyan girls cash in on plastic

NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 26 – Plastic bags have been named the unwanted flowers because of the damage they cause to the environment especially when disposed off incorrectly.

Polythene bags have been known to cause sewer blockages, threaten aquatic life and even kill livestock. They have now become a common menace in Kenya as they are commonly used for shopping, wrapping items and even dumping waste.

But the problem is not in their use but rather on the fact that plastic bags produced in Kenya are too thin. On the brighter side, though, a group of teenage girls has taken up the challenge and are now using the unwanted flowers to earn a livelihood.

Located at the City Park Hawkers Market in Parklands, the organisation known as Hawkers Market Girls Centre recycles polythene bags, converting them into useful products.

Isabella Asenwa is the Centre Manager.

“We get the papers from people around; we’ve already told them so they know what we are doing. After they use their papers they don’t throw them away, they give them to us. We also get from drycleaners,” she says.

Isabella explains that the girls centre was started in 1993 by three Asian ladies. They used to go to the market to buy vegetables and every time they would be approached by some little girls begging for handouts.

They came up with an idea to start the centre to assist these young girls earn a livelihood by teaching them basic English and Mathematics and feeding them.

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But when the Free Primary Education programme was started eight years ago, most of the younger girls joined school and that’s when they introduced vocational training. Here they are taught dress making, crafts and recycling of polythene bags.

The centre now has a rich variety of bags, necklaces and hats made from the recycled waste.

“You just take a normal polythene bag that has been used, cut it into circles and then join them together and after they become a string you crotchet to make a bag. You don’t need any other raw materials to come up with this basket,” she said displaying one of the beautiful bags they have made from polythene.

As we conduct the interview, we are interrupted by some customers who are looking for a hand bag.

Isabella takes them through the shop to choose the design they may want and later negotiates the price.

One of the customers says she always visits the Hawkers market girls centre when she comes here because their products are unique.

“This is also buying with a social conscience because I know that when I buy from here it is actually helping the girls develop their skills and also earn a little bit of income,” says the client.

After Isabella has finished negotiating with them, she tells us that they also make necklaces from recycled newspapers and magazines.

“We cut the magazines, stick them together with glue and then use normal beads to join them together into a nice necklace,” she explains.

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They now pride themselves with a variety of products made from recycled waste which they sell on retail. Sometimes receive orders through their website

The National Environment Management Authority recently introduced new rules, setting the minimum allowable gauge at 60 microns.

This is aimed at reducing the amount of littered plastic bags in the environment.

Isabella welcomes this move saying the thicker the polythene bag the better.

According to the Kenya Association of Manufacturers estimates, the plastic industry was worth Sh5.8 billion three years ago and is growing rapidly.

Rwanda is the only country in the East African Community that has successfully banned the use of polythene bags.

Uganda and Tanzania have set the minimum thickness at 60 microns.

With an estimated 4,000 tons of plastic bags produced in Kenya each month and the fact that it takes about 1,000 years for plastics to decompose naturally, it is important for Kenyans to learn the art of recycling to protect the environment.

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