Meet Elvis Aboluah, a native of the Upper East Region of Ghana, who is turning trash into treasure…and saving the environment in the process!
What is it that you do for a living? Describe in full detail. What are your day-to-day tasks?
I work with Trashy Bags, a company that recycles plastic waste into bags and other products. Sourced from discarded drinks sachets and even billboards, the plastic is only cleaned and dried and is not processed in any other way. Using sewing machines we then stitch the pieces together into hundreds of different types of bags and other accessories.
The focus of this social enterprise is to continue to recycle the plastic which otherwise would have been on land or the ocean destroying the environment into useful products. By embarking on this activity, the company provides jobs to its workers and the people who collect the plastic at the same time creating educational awareness about the hazards of improper disposal of plastic, which is minimal in Ghana.
Describe the absolute coolest part of your workday.
I love to interact with members of the public who are interested in our products so I can explain how we started and the huge impact we are having on environmental awareness in Ghana. My work also takes me out of the office to conferences and workshops where I enjoy promoting our own special brand of recycling (or "upcycling" as we prefer to call it).
Was this always what you wanted to do? Did you pursue this sort of work while in school? How did you become what you are today?
By profession, I am an archeologist and museum technician for nearly 14 years now. I have been privileged to assist in numerous research work in most parts of Ghana and the Netherlands, also with professors from Universities like Manchester and Syracuse. While pursuing these, I noticed how suddenly in recent times its been destroyed at such a rapid rate especially by plastic waste that has not been disposed of responsibly or recycled.
I have always had passion for environmental issues and so when I met Stuart Gold, the director of Trashy Bags in 2008 when he had barely started this project with his Ghanaian colleague, I was amazed and interested and have since been involved in the campaign.
Although my studies were not directly related to what I do now, my knowledge in environmental archeology gives me a better understanding of the impact of human activities especially relating to the generation of waste. Interestingly Mr. Gold is an architect and computer consultant and career-wise, neither of us has a background related directly to what we do now. What I think has driven us to this work is our passion for the environment and the sense of achievement we feel by creating employment for more than sixty people in this innovative company. We have had acknowledgment over the years from all over the world as you can see on our website.
Oprah once said that at her core, she is a teacher. What do you consider yourself to be at your core?
I always see the people I meet and interact with in life as my dressing mirror (through) whom I see and assess myself. When I marry the perception of people about me and my personal ego, I would say that I am a mentor.
What are some initial reactions when people find out what you do? What do they say? What are their expressions?
Unfortunately in our part of the planet earth, environmental issues are not like a piece of pizza that everyone can identify. One of the challenges that we have had over the years is creating awareness especially about the hazards of plastic waste. There are even situations when university students find it difficult to believe that it could take from 500 to 1000 years for plastic to biodegrade. The good thing however is that a lot of people get intrigued by the products we make out of waste and that draws them closer to the message. There are normally comments like: "this is cool", "great idea", "what a clever way to clean the environment", etc.
Any advice to someone considered in going into your line of work?
I always believe that with determination we can overcome whatever poses a challenge to us. Environmental issues need a collaborative effort and the bigger the population that gets involved the bigger the impact we are likely to make. For instance at the close of work every day, we still collect pieces of plastic that we cannot use and so we engage the service of another recycling company that is able to melt them into pellets.
I can’t really advise people that this kind of work is easy or has large financial rewards, but maybe that is not the point. To know that you are truly working for the planet is one of the greatest rewards of all.