EcoJogging: Trash Hunt in Togolese Capital

By Michaela Kozminova.

Never heard of EcoJogging? If you imagine people running around and collecting trash, you pretty much got the picture. What you probably wouldn’t have guessed is that this idea was first realized in Togo and then spread to other countries.

Felix Tagba is a 26 year old journalist with passion for the environment. After finishing his studies in the Togolese capital Lomé, he moved to France for one year to do his civic service in humanitarian field. When he came back home, his environmental enthusiasm literally started getting people off the couch – the idea to connect jogging that he enjoys to something useful, resulted in the project called EcoJogging. Since the first organized run in January 2017, hundreds of participants have been gathering about once every month to do something good for their physical condition and for the planet. As a result of running down the streets and beaches of Lomé with bags full of litter, around 520kg of garbage have been collected by more than 700 occasional and regular participants only during the first year of the project. At the last event which took place on 21 April as part of celebrations of the Earth Day, 264kg have been collected on a 2km running trail in Lomé. The conception soon aroused international interest. Not only neighbouring Ghana and Benin got inspired, also Mauritania and France have organized similar events. “Our target is to spread the idea around the world to save the planet from plastic contamination” says Felix.

At the moment, five devoted people manage the project. Despite its noticeable success, the initiative has encountered some serious struggles. Its financial means are scarce and the organizers have often no choice but to draw on their own resources. Communication is only limited to free platforms and media. Although two Togolese ministers have participated at EcoJogging events, their support didn’t go further. According to Felix, “the question of public funding does not arise that simply in Togo”.

Even though not often discussed, the problem of garbage in many African countries is more than pressing. Lack of trash bins in the streets, buildings and households means zero incentive for people to stop littering, let alone sorting and recycling their waste. Although a Togolese law from 2011 bans use, sale, production and import of plastic bags, the implementation is inefficient and difficult as locals lack the knowledge and willingness to dispose trash in a responsible way. For example, a widespread idea that only black plastic bags are harmful for the environment has knocked out the 2011 law for years as many vendors considered the problem solved by switching to colourful plastic bags.

That is why Felix’s association also puts emphasis on education and tries to raise environmental awareness. In partnership with other environmental organizations, EcoJogging focuses on educating younger generations which, Felix hopes, will once change the world.

However, better awareness of the population alone wouldn’t save the situation if no action is taken by the government. Public waste management is quasi non-existent and incessantly piling mountains of trash are mostly burned or buried in landfills with no safety regulations. Only a small part of disposed garbage is taken care of by private companies who have the means to transform it into reusable matter and potentially make money by selling it. One of them, Africa Global Recycling, has been founded in 2013 to find an efficient and sustainable way of handling waste produced by communes and enterprises in West Africa. Africa Global Recycling is also one of the destinations for trash collected by eco-joggers. Aside from that, some of their assembled plastics are “donated” to an association working with Lomé’s prisoners as material to manufacture bags, pencil cases or wallets.

Felix hopes that the perception of waste in Togo and Africa in general will change. One of the rare sources of income for his association comes from the sale of sorted trash to recycling structures. Although 1kg of sorted plastics only gains 75 West African CFA (=0.11 euro), it mainly represents hope that people could once acknowledge the value of what they throw out without blinking an eye. Maybe one day, they will also see trash as potential resources.

Picture credit: Felix Tagba, Lomé.

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