From threat to resource: Precious Plastic gives new life to plastic

A hands-on approach, an ‘open’ mindset and a master’s thesis. These are the elements that brought Precious Plastic to life. Precious Plastic is a global community which connects hundreds of people working to find a solution to plastic pollution. Knowledge, tools and techniques are shared online for free. This allows everyone to enter the community and to give their contribution. Thus, Precious Plastic is still growing and has recently expanded to the African continent, after projects coming from the U.S.A., Europe and South East Asia.

by Luca Indemini (translation by Agnese Glauda)

The Precious Plastic project was created by Dave Hakkens, a Dutch young man. He designed a machine to recycle plastic at home while working on his master’s thesis.

Now, he has come a long way from the first model. In fact, four machines were designed four and the instructions are available for free on his website, together with video tutorials. Hence, users can build them independently and the costs are between 100 and 300 euros.

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The four recycling machines designed by Precious Plastic

Firstly, there is the Shredder Machine, which breaks down the plastics in very small pieces, easy to work with. Then, there is the Extrusion Machine, which transforms residuals in threads (useful, for instance, in 3D printing). The most advanced is the Injection Machine, which creates very specific items, with molds, in a short amount of time. Lastly, we find the Compression Machine, which creates larger items.

Only the products created through the recycling process can be a source of profit.

Joining the community is quick and simple. You only need to access the website and register on the map. In the beginning, the members were mainly FabLab, makers and geeks. Lately, also various organizations have joined, including training institutions and NGOs working in developing countries.

During the past six years, the community has grown considerably along with the ideas and shared experiences. This is what defines the project’s ‘open’ mindset.

Precious plastic in Africa

About thirty users with different backgrounds have joined the Precious Plastic initiative in the African continent. Some projects are less advanced, with the main goal to raise awareness regarding waste recycling. Others are already experienced businesses.

One of the most interesting projects is the Koun social enterprise, set in Casablanca, Morocco. The Precious Plastic website defines Koun as the ‘true recycling heroes’. A youth group collects the plastic waste to transform it into new items for the growing Moroccan middle class, searching for beautiful and ethical products. Stools, handbags, mugs, lamps, chandeliers and many more.

Up-cycling principles inspire Koun’s philosophy. In fact, up-cycling is the art of transforming waste into items worth more than the original. Koun collects raw materials directly from factories, schools and Casablanca associations. Then, turns waste into original products. The project has a positive social impact as it employs young disadvantaged people. Five of them work under the supervision of Mohamed, the foreman.

A different situation is found in Yoff near Dakar in Senegal, where Precious Plastic found its way to the hostel ViaVia. The hostel built three machines that cut, melt and press plastic into products, such as plates and bracelets. Karen, Jens, Masha, Jitse and Yehbonne, five Belgian students from the University of Leuven started this program. The AFD (Academics for Development) supported them while they volunteered during their summer vacations.

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The main venue of Precious Plastic in Africa

This was a first step but it has already proven quite successful. Many people from Dakar and the neighboring regions have expressed their interest towards the project and wish to build similar machines to fight plastic pollution.

Instead, in Kisii, Kenya, Precious Plastic started as a pilot project between 2017 and 2018. In that case, the UN-Habitat (UN program concerned with sustainable urbanization) invited Precious Plastic to create a plastic recycling workshop.

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The venue of Precious Plastic in Kisii, Kenya

The project had two main goals: to solve plastic pollution and counter youth unemployment. Currently, the Kiisi workshop employs 11 people. Additionally, it is especially in trying to educate the local population on pollution, through clean-up events in the area. Finally, the Precious Plastic machines turn plastic into bright coloured vases and plates.

Up until now, the project worked on a small scale. However, if the good results are confirmed, UN-Habitat is hoping to create new workshops in the region and in the whole country.

Jjiguène Tech Hub in Dakar: women and ICT for rural development

The Jjiguene Tech Hub is the first all-girl tech hubs in Dakar. In 2011, the founders of the Center won the WCA Imagine Cup, an international competition aimed at students and sponsored by Microsoft, which recognized ICT solutions able to help reach the Millennium development goals.

by Elisabetta Demartis, Dakar

Jjiguène_Tech_HubJjiguène Tech Hub: the first project

“The project, called PAGEL (Pêche, Agriculture, Élevage),” said Awa Caba, one of the group founders, “is an online platform to provide infrastructural support to the commercial side of farming and fishing”. An e-commerce portal helps workers and small businesses owner monitor and then set the prices for their products, detect developing markets and gain worldwide visibility. “The project,” the young computer scientist, goes on, “looks like a repository of initiatives as diverse as Soo retul, Yegle, web and SMS platforms. They all share the common goal of protecting the work of farmers and stimulating business for those women producing fruit juices and similar products in rural areas”.

ICT for women and farmers

Soo retul, still under development, will enable female entrepreneurs to gain an online way to expand the number of buyers, usually very low given the limited possibilities for advertising of products to a wider level than locally. On the other hand, Yegle helps Kaolack region manufacturers get pricing information by sending a daily message to hundreds of people with the prices of all products on the market. 

By means of such a tool, the Jjiguène Tech Hub girls used technology to build on top of an existing mechanism. In fact, farmers were already enrolled in the SMS service which was then used to send automated messages to all of them. The system is also capable of recording information flows, as well as spot information.

“After a trial period, farmers understood very well the potential embedded in such a platform” Awa Caba muses, “so they felt the need to implement a communication strategy allowing for the tracking of the fertilizer and pesticide distribution processes“. As a matter of fact, these products are often donated by organizations such as IFAD, the State or non-profit institutions, and yet no system logs said donations and certifies that products have been distributed for real, and who they went to. Due to this platform, SMSs are used as reports and all deliveries recorded, making it a transparent process. The platform is also used to let producers have access to the weather forecast so they could better plan their work.

Agriculture: the future of Africa between tradition and innovation

Agriculture, fishing, farming, access to microcredit for rural women and employment of women in rural areas. The secret of the next economic development of Africa might indeed be rooted in its very ancient crafts.

by Elisabetta Demartis in Dakar (Senegal)

While farmers use their cell phones to keep updated with food prices on the market, women build web platforms to attract financing. Apparently, the interplay of tradition and innovation generates out-of-the-box solutions – so innovative that they could potentially overcome many of the problems historically afflicting Africa. Given that the biggest resource Africa has is its arable lands, all of this could indeed make it the richest country in the world.

On April 19th, the Africa Progress Panel presented the Grain Fish Money report at the West African Research Center in Dakar. Under the direction of President Kofi Annan, a group of private and public sector experts was given the task of generating widespread policy-making influence on the sustainable development of the African continent. The meeting was run by Marieme Jamme, founder of Africa Gathering and nominated by Forbes in 2012 among the 20 “Youngest Power Women in Africa” .

The 2014 report (available in French for download) highlights the huge progresses of Africa in the last few years, in just about all fields. Particularly, the primary sector sounds promising, especially when giving a closer look to agriculture and fishing. According to the report, however, the big part of what comes from this sector stems from illegal activities that are responsible for the loss of 50 million dollars of illicit capital altogether. Said loss spreads worldwide, accounting for 5.7% of the Gross Domestic Product of the entire continent.

The report also provides a general understanding of the main hurdles to productive processes and the development of Africa, focusing on sectors pivotal to the “rebirth” of the continent, such as agriculture and fishing. Illegal deforestation, unreported fishing and overreliance on import are among the major factors preventing the full development of the primary sector. Nevertheless, it sees a growing commitment by many organizations throughout Africa that have developed web and mobile applications platforms specific for the work of farmers and fishermen. They are collectively known as ICT4Agriculture, encompassing the whole set of technological innovations developed to ease information access and communication among primary sector players.

The aforementioned report outlined (see figure below) the more representative projects among those arising from the continent. They spanned from mobile applications on food prices on the market and the food supply localization to web platforms sharing the best agricultural practices, to mobile banking systems intensively used to buy and sell food products.




After the debate, innovation technology was pointed to as a solution to some of the problems outlined in the report. Additional suggestions involved three broad areas of competitiveness in Senegal. Suggested fields for improvement were, the role of women in local communities and their access to credit, the rights and practices of fishermen engaged in illegal fishing, and the role of Senegal within the agricultural and fishing industry relatively to nearby countries.

– using ICT and mobile devices for strengthening communication and disseminating information among the various primary sector key players;

– training of said players in managing informal micro activities and provision of legal support, especially to women;

– supporting agriculture and fishing as viable professions for the youth and spreading tools for direct financing without excessive bureaucracy;

– educating the locals in the consumption of local products and the various issues surrounding illegal fishing;

– regulating import-export practices so to prevent governments from signing up agreements with multinational business that exploit local resources;

– improving the infrastructures and stimulating market competitiveness.

“African products, such as fishing,” wrote Kofi Annan in the report “can not just merely nourish people, but can contribute to the development of the entire globe. In fact, we all can benefit from them, provided Africa becomes a prosperous, stable and fair continent”.