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PLASTIC SACHET WASTE GENERATION

MONROVIA, LIBERIA

Exploring methods of reducing the amount of plastic waste caused by plastic water sachets in Monrovia, Liberia

Defining the Problem Spaces

The plastic water sachet problem can be divided into three main spaces based on the event chain described above.

Network of Drinkable or Piped Water

Reduce the amount of plastic water sachets used by giving more people or areas access to piped drinkable water

Solutions

  • Create a larger network of water distribution pipes throughout the city, and eventually, the entire country

Waste Generation

Reduce the amount of plastic waste generated from the beginning stages from plastic water sachets

Solutions

  • Biodegradable water sachets

  • Water sachet liners that can be disposed safely

  • Recyclable aluminum cans/bottles will replace plastic water sachets

Waste Management

Reduce the amount of plastic currently in the environment

Solutions

  • Enact policy changes, particularly in giving incentives to people to collect waste and punishments for littering

  • Educating the community about the implications of plastic pollution, especially in schools and encouraging school clubs to organize cleaning efforts to raise awareness

Initial Concepts

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Biodegradable Seaweed Water Sachets

Notpla is a company that uses notpla, a revolutionary material made from seaweed and plants to package materials such as liquids. Their product, Ooho, features 100% edible and biodegradable packaging that can store 15 to 100 mL of liquid. The packaging is made from brown seaweed which grows up to one meter per day, does not need fresh water or fertilizer, and actively contributes to deacidifying the oceans

Limitations

  • The membrane is quite delicate so it can easily break or fall apart.

  • Since it is advertised as edible, it needs to be sold in another external packaging which negates the objective of eliminating the need for non-biodegradable packaging. 

  • It has a very limited shelf life.

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Seaweed Takeaway Box

Noting these limitation, Notpla developed a new product: the seaweed takeaway box. This features a recyclable, home compostable, naturally biodegradable packaging that can be disposed of in general garbage or a recycling can. It is also made of 100 percent seaweed and other plants while being bigger and sturdier than Ooho.

Limitations

  • Because the packaging is plant-based, there is a possibility of contaminating the seaweed packaging or allowing for water leakage.

  • Even though they are biodegradable, it would still take about four weeks to completely biodegrade, leaving the problem of clogging drains still unsolved.

  • There are various problems and questions in the plan to manufacture easy-to-use and functional water storage from this plant material

Setting up the Problem

Lack networks to reach everyone with clean drinking water

Avoid water-borne illnesses from drinking polluted river water

Drinkable water stored in plastic water sachets

Lack robust waste mgmt. systems to pick up littered plastics

Disposed in environment

Littering and burning

Immediate and long term negative effects

Waste management in Monrovia, Liberia is a complex systemic problem that is caused by several factors. First, there is a lack of networks to give everyone access to clean drinking water. Especially with the increased population, this becomes a larger issue of water accessibility. The alternative ways to avoid water-borne illnesses from drinking polluted water is to use plastic water sachets to store drinkable water. However, these plastic sachets are disposed mainly by littering into the environment or burning because Monrovia lacks a robust waste management system. Therefore, the main objective of this project is to explore methods of reducing the amount of plastic waste in Monrovia, Liberia.

Plastic water sachets are made of non-biodegradable synthetic polyethylene. This material can remain intact for 1000 years. In Liberia, people resort to using plastic water sachets for three main reasons: affordability, availability, and safety. These plastic water sachets are cheap and are distributed conveniently across the nation to store drinkable water that is not widely available, especially due to their polluted river water. At least six bags are used per individual daily amounting to 29.1 million empty bags generated daily and these empty bags are usually disposed of through ground littering or burning, both of which are harmful to the environment.

More negative impacts of plastic water sachet littering are detailed in the report above.

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Finalizing the Solution

Reflection

This project was especially interesting in that I was dealing with a large and complex system. Plastic waste management is a very difficult problem to tackle especially when trying to find a solution on a nationwide scale. There are also currently many different solutions that already exist or are being developed. Therefore, the objective of this project was to learn how to design a solution for the system itself. It was initially very difficult for me to change the way I thought about the design process in this case as I had experience in designing direct product or service solutions to very specific problems. However, during this process, I learned how to adapt my way of thinking to solving this large and complex systemic problem. From this project, I took away two main ideas: the importance of learning more about the "environment" of the problem and analyzing the pros and cons of the solutions already in existence.

First, when tackling a large scale problem such as this, I had to conduct deep research into two main areas: the Liberian culture and environment, and the plastic waste problem that has existed for many years along with existing solutions or ideas. Since my project focused on the issue in Liberia, I learned the importance of learning as much as I could about that country. This included its economy, government, demographics, main source of livelihood, values, history and culture. Being more aware of these things allows me to understand where the problem might have started and what I should be cognizant of when designing the solution. In any design process, learning about the end user and the values that they have is the key to designing a meaningful and successful solution.

 

In terms of the plastic waste issue, I found it very valuable to learn about the effects of plastic waste on us and the environment, what studies have already been conducted, if there were similar cases in other countries, and what solutions already exist or are being developed. When looking at the solutions that already exist, I had to dive deeper into both the technical features as well as what purpose it is trying to serve. What materials does it use? What is its capacity? What are the major advantages as well as its disadvantages? How much does it cost? Where are its downfalls or shortcomings? What is the mission or why was it developed in the first place? What research and data backs up this product? These were just a few of the important questions that I learned to ask when analyzing each product. Then, by using this foundational knowledge, I was able to come up with a few solutions that would be tailored well towards the specific situation.

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Open Water Aluminum Bottles

Open Water is a company that sells water contained in infinitely recyclable aluminum bottles. Aluminum containers are recycled more than twice as often as plastic, glass and carton containers and the recycling rate industry-wide is nearly 70 percent. The manufacturing process of this product is also a true closed loop in that it is infinitely recyclable. Lastly, the product and the operations are carbon neutral in that all emissions are offset.

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