Rescuing Nigeria from plastic pollution 

Sakeenah kareem

It was another day in the life of Konboye Eugene, a student artist who traveled miles for the materials needed to complete his project. This hustling was not novel to his artistic living, however, it was gradually becoming a hassle. Getting conventional art materials was not only scarce, but also costly. It was at that point that he decided that he needed to find an alternative. 

Eugene

Eugene was tired of suffering in the name of getting conventional art materials. He thus made up his mind that “there was a need for a kind of a shift”. In the quest of proffering solutions to the existing problem, he found a way not only to fulfil his own need, but a societal need – recycling flip-flops to art. 

“If I’m creating art with conventional art materials, my supply chain will be very much limited. Whereas, if we look around, there are materials already lying there. There’s a lot of garbage. So, I saw an opportunity to do something not just positive, but also beneficial to the environment”, Eugene said. 

Eugene looked at the piles of flip-flops at ocean banks, incinerators, and all across the country and saw the potential in them. While others were seeing Slippers that were no longer of use, Eugene was seeing the future of Art and Nigeria’s escape route from environmental pollution. 

However, it was not enough to see the potential in flip-flops, it was more important to be able to tap that potential. As Eugene started making an effort for himself and his environment, the people didn’t understand why anyone should be gathering their used slippers nor were the environmental policies hugging him. 

“The people are my major challenges”, Eugene said. “The people were a bit concerned about what those materials were used for. Many thought that it had to do with being fetish.” 

“Another issue is the environmental policies. I visited a landfill where I wasn’t allowed to access materials because I was told that for me to do anything, I have to first write a letter to the Ministry of Environment”, he explained. 

Research by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) showed that “Plastic wastes are hardly recycled in Nigeria with less than 12% being recycled and about 80% of these wastes end up in landfills and dump sites. Meanwhile landfills have been reported to contribute about 20% of GreenHouse Gases (GHG)”

Emmanuel Kilaso, Founder of Securecycle Environmental and Climate Change Initiative, said “ rubber pollution in Nigeria poses a significant environmental challenge with wide-ranging impacts on ecosystems, human health, and biodiversity”. 

“The main challenges stem from the improper disposal and mismanagement of rubber products, particularly rubber slippers used in various industries and infrastructural projects. These slippers, when discarded irresponsibly, contribute to pollution in water bodies, soil, and the general environment.”

“The work of Eugene in my opinion is a great one as he is actively contributing to environmental sustainability by repurposing rubber slippers into art. By transforming discarded rubber into visually appealing artworks, he brings attention to the issue of rubber pollution while promoting recycling and upcycling,” he stated. 

For Eugene, the intent of using those flip flops in his artwork is to stir awareness and environmental consciousness in people

“ I intend to create awareness and make people a little bit more environmentally conscious than they are. As I started collecting those waste, people realized the amount of plastic & rubber waste that we have in the environment. Also, it allows people to know that putting the environment in a good able is a collective responsibility,” he said. 

Beyond Eugene’s contribution to the environment, his idea of recycling flip-flops into artworks has also been instrumental in job creation and empowerment for youths. He trains other intending artists like him and also, employs others to assist in the gathering and collecting process. 

“Through my work and world, I’ve been able to employ people in different capacities to do things for me. I have like 10 people that gather waste for me and all I have to do is pay them. There are opportunities in waste management and going forward, I still want to expand the job opportunities to help the people as well as the environment.”

For Caroline Useh, one of Eugene’s mentees who now also has her practice, “Konboye is down to earth and very open with his apprentices.”

In her words, “ Konoye is somebody that taught me everything I needed to know and his tutelage has really helped me. I gained enough exposure from him and I’ve also built a relationship with him outside of Art”. He is a very commendable mentor that anybody can learn something from and he doesn’t compromise on teaching.” 

For Kayode Omolola, another of Eugene’s mentees, she believes that “ he is more than a mentor; he’s a big brother to me”. 

“He always makes the environment very conducive for learning. The skills and techniques I’ve learned from him is that anything can turn out to be an artifact and you can turn the slightest objects to a very eye-catching art piece. Bro Eugene’s mentorship and artistic development has impacted my life positively all round,” she said. 

Africa Change Stories platform is established to tell African stories which are empowering and are at variant to stereotypical views of wars, famine, diseases. At African Change Stories, we believe narrative and angle matters. So we responsibly tell stories ethically. The platform therefore pushes forward great and energizing stories which will propel its people to consciously strive to do more. You have a story? Info@africanchangestories.org

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