Major issues such as waste management, environmental degradation and rising demand for food dominate the political agenda in the African country of Senegal. The Greening Plastics project exists at the intersection of these domains. The project contributes to a cleaner environment by offering a new application to former plastic waste: it is recycled into drip-irrigation systems. In turn, these systems make small and big farmers more ‘climate-proof’ by saving water and improving crop yields.
For Deltares the project offers the opportunity to pilot Passive Sampling in Africa. The technique is applied to monitor soil and water quality in locations where the recycled irrigation kits are in use. This is to make sure that no health or environmental risks will result from the application of recycled plastic in an agricultural environment. Because at the end of the day, it is recycled plastic, and it can contain additives such as stabilizers, fillers, plasticizers and colorants. Also, whatever the plastic may have contained in its previous life as a jerrycan for example, may still be found to leach out of the recycled version - pesticides, medicines, who knows what else and how much? This at least, were our fears, when we started with the project; and it was what we were warned for by persons working with plastics themselves. However, throughout the project, as we got in touch with other companies working on plastic recycling and sometimes applying it to similar solutions, it turned out that the dangers were far smaller than we had expected. Even the recycling process seems to be a lot safer than we had been warned for. But at the same time, these people told us: "it's a good thing that you're assessing this, because it hasn't been assessed. We will be interested to know your outcomes."
Passive Sampling is a sampling method which has been applied extensively in scientific applications. As a commercial application however, it is less prevalent. Nonetheless, passive sampling is relatively easy to deploy, and can therefore be a cheaper and more interesting option than traditional sampling methods which require the transportation of large quantities of soil or water to the lab. Passive sampling namely only requires the movement of 6 credit-card-shaped rubber sheets to allow you to monitor hundreds of chemicals, medicines, pesticides and emerging compounds.
The Greening Plastic Project is funded by ViaWater, a financing programme of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs for innovative solutions to problems with water in African cities; and by IUCN-NL's DAWCA, the Dutch Agro-Climate Alliance. The partners are an Italian NGO, Lvia, who have been working on waste management in Senegal for decades, and DMS, a local start-up that makes plastic products from recycled plastic.
In this pilot project solutions will be proposed which simultaneously interface with the waste, water and food sectors and strengthen the nexus between them. Therefore the project proposes an integrated approach to solve some of the most evident challenges faced by countries as Senegal.