april 25, 2023

Engineers without borders and DIS/CREADIS team up to block plastic pollution in Sierra Leone

Engineers from DIS/CREADIS are working actively as volunteers in Engineers Without Borders and have now developed and tested a solution to collect the large amounts of waste in Aberdeen Creek, a lagoon in Sierra Leone’s capital.

Sierra Leone, waste management is a significant problem. The West African country produces 96,000 tons of plastic waste annually, and without a well-functioning waste disposal system, large amounts of waste accumulate in illegal dumping sites. 84% of plastic waste is not handled as it should be. When it rains, the plastic waste flows with the water, accumulating in the channels and on the banks in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown. From there, the plastic flows unobstructed into the Atlantic Ocean. Single-use packaging is particularly problematic in Freetown.

Finding new ways collect plastic in the water

The Danish NGO, Engineers Without Borders (EWB), has been addressing the waste problem in Sierra Leone for 13 years. DIS/CREADIS engineers Arne Palsbirk and Mathias Starbæk Knudsen have together with other EWB volunteers started ‘The Freetown Plastic Clean-up Project’, where they work with the local partner, WHI World Hope International Sierra Leone, to collect and recycle plastic waste before it ends up in the Aberdeen Creek.


Now, EWB is ready with a solution that allows for waste collection after it has gone into the water. They have invented a module-based blockade which prevents the waste from spreading and floating further down the Aberdeen Creek and collects the waste in one corner of the lagoon. The blockade has been tested in a slightly less exotic setting, namely in Stilling Lake near Skanderborg and DIS/CREADIS engineer and EWB volunteer Arne Palsbirk confirms that the modules behaved exactly as expected and is now ready for testing in the environment it was intended for in the Aberdeen Creek.

Getting ready to test in Sierra Leone

Arne, Mathias and other EWB volunteers are getting ready to see for themselves how the blockade works as they will be heading to Sierra Leone after Easter. The construction of the blockade is so simple that it can fit into a suitcase. And that is entirely deliberate because the construction must be easy to copy and produce in the African country. The module consists of a metal frame, wire mesh, and a top plate that directs the plastic towards the coast, where it can be manually picked up. A module is 1×1 meter and screwed together with rubber fittings. The blockade can consist of several modules according to the waste collection needs and conditions of the water.

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