Burkina Faso business Neere Group is fighting the country’s plastic waste problem in a unique and surprising way, directly using the discarded material to make clothing. Along with reducting sanitation, the project also helps women and youth – responsible for the majority of waste management and collection work – to generate better incomes.

The group is supported by the Switch Africa Green Programme, which was implemented by the UN’s Environment department and receives financial support from the European Union. Around 70 women have been taught to unravel, collect, sort, wash and weave plastic waste found across the town.

Communities can pay $1.70 each month to have their household waste collected and sorted into biodegradable waste for compost and plastic waste for tailoring, which is made directly into suits, bags and more. This is not a yarn recycling process and no mechanical or chemical recycling is used.

Turnover is still relatively low, with annual sales at just $5,620. However, the monthly wage in Koudougou can be around $115. All profit generated is divided equally among members. Coordinator of the Neere Group, Damien Lankoande, said, “The problem of plastic waste is critical in Burkina Faso,” adding: “There are many places where you can find plastic waste, yet few realise its potential value. We see plastic waste as money in transition. We weave it into profitable products, putting value on it. This is how we think differently.”

Plastic isn’t traditionally a commonly-used material in clothing, unless it goes through mechanical or chemical recycling. The 100 per cent plastic waste has been found to be very slippery, and plastic blended with cotton has proven to be both more attractive and manageable. Furthermore, fully plastic fabric means that owners must be careful when ironing their garments, and only wash them by hand. Chairperson of Neere, Ouedraogo Odile, said, “People don’t yet see the value in plastic, and are reluctant to buy plastic products.” However, she added: “We’re proud we’re turning plastic into fashion.”