As the rubbish built up on the rubble of Mogadishu’s wrecked streets, Ahmed Abdullah saw a business opportunity. He recruited a team of workers – many of them refugees from Somalia’s long conflict – and sent them out to collect plastic bags, bottles and wrappers to turn into roof tiles and other recycled goods.
“They cannot break, you see,” Abdullah said has he threw some of his tiles onto the floor to show their strength. “They are made of the recycled plastics and soil.” Years of fierce fighting in the coastal city have destroyed its infrastructure and left the surviving buildings pocked with bullet holes.
The cash-strapped government is struggling to control a vast, divided country where Islamist militants from the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab group still launch regular attacks on the capital. Regular rubbish collection is way down the state’s list of priorities. “A lot of rubbish like plastics, paper bags … are thrown outside the city,” said Abdullah. When the piles get too big, he added, people start dumping it in the ocean.
So, in June 2018, he and others founded their company, Green Plastic. Muslimo Aden Ali said he gets paid 3,000 Somali shillings ($5.18) for every kg of waste he brings in. “We carry the rubbish on our heads and backs. It is a nice job. We survive on this,” he said.
Maryan Abdullahi, a 35-year-old mother displaced by fighting, said she walks more than 10 km (7 miles) a day searching for plastic. “I cannot sleep at night because of back ache but this is the only way I can raise food for my children.”