I had the privilege of interviewing Ibrahim Yougbare, an Engineer, Entrepreneur, Designer, and more importantly, an Innovator who gives back to his community whilst fostering a new circular economic structure for his environment.
Ibrahim grew up in Ghana and learned the Engineering trade at a young age from his father, a plastics products manufacturer. Today, he devotes his time to repurposing plastic waste.
Ibrahim’s process is straight-forward, innovative and self-sufficient. He explains that he obtains his waste materials from different sources such as “plastic-producing industries, local waste pickers, litter overflowing from the dustbins, the seashore, even from other regions of Ghana.” These products could be produced into “something else, something better than waste, littered on our communities’ streets!”
His team transforms plastics by sorting the direct materials for the different products they aim to produce for the community, such as “school supplies, chairs, desks, curtain ropes…” He explains that it is an “everyday process, which begins by sorting the various waste materials if needed, grinding, and mixing by percentage of waste plastics adjusted for the targeted end-product, which is subsequently transformed via agglomeration to be passed through an extruder.” He personally trains his several employees working with him on his different endeavors.
Ibrahim has self-customized two plastic recycling machines (extruders), used for different purposes to “produce something else”, serving his recycling business. He uses an agglomerator to “physically transform discarded plastic products, such as bags and sachets, into appropriate materials to feed into an extruder.” For new endeavors, he is thinking of combining plastic waste with sawdust, which is easy to procure and adds rigidity to solidify the end-product.
Ibrahim is also a self-made designer. He explains, “As a first step, I envision the product I wish to produce. I design it on the drawing board, with the engineering specifications I want to attribute to the particular product. Next, I modify one of my two extruders to suit the transformation for that product.” For him, “a social engineer must acquire or self-teach design skills, almost become an artist, in order to redesign products to make them better, more useful and more sustainable.”
He explains that today his company produces 22.4 tons of materials per month, upcycling plastic waste into different types of products such as “curtain ropes or chair fittings.”
Looking at other conventional products such as benches and chair fittings, Ibrahim states “I felt these products could actually be made from plastic, cost less and serve the same function.”
When asked why he chose a different path versus his father who engineered first-stage plastic products, Ibrahim states “I aspired to do more than repair and fix machines which produce goods without the community or our surroundings in mind”. He also wanted to go beyond just collecting old waste and selling it to “resellers”, in the form of recycled plastic pellets, as this would not solve the larger pollution problem that Ghana faces, with the same waste circulating back into the environment.
I asked Ibrahim how he would develop his business if he had more funding. His proposal is to focus on Wood-Plastic Composites (WPC), composite materials made of wood fibers and thermoplastics. Per my previous ASASE blog, WPCs offer a successful repurposing initiative, crossing over to the Construction and Housing industries, their usage ranging from outdoor decks and park benches to indoor furniture. In Ibrahim’s view, replacing current wood and wood products with plastics would not only alleviate plastics pollution, but it would also “help preserve our forests and environment.” He has developed a new Wood-Plastics product and is looking forward to going into production thanks to additional funding his venture has received which will “speed-up and increase his capacity to commercialize his innovation”. He has already produced prototypes (chairs) for use in his office.
Ibrahim has witnessed environmental pollution increase at an exponential rate threatening the future of his country in the past 10 years. He explains that today the dumpsites are overflowing, and the seashore is inundated with plastic waste. Cities seek other dumpsites in different regions to lighten their dump loads. Increasing initiatives by local communities to collect waste are not enough.
It is why he “aims to find alternatives to get more material off the streets in the short-term to upcycle into useful products his community can reuse.” He wishes to extend the time end-plastics will “return to pollute the streets and the seashore!”
Ibrahim looks at a potential partnership with ASASE as an enabler for him to increase his contributions to a more sustainable future for his community by expanding his recycling capabilities as well as by adding new innovative initiatives such as Wood-Plastics onto his already full plate.
His answer to my final question on whether he had anything he wished to add, highlighted the critical importance of formal and informal community education. His generation was raised not “caring about littering”; they did not learn about the environment at school. He states that it is “imperative for the younger generation to be socially and environmentally conscious from a very young age and drive efforts to manage waste in their daily lives to champion our evolution from a linear “take-make-waste” to a more circular “reduce-reuse-recycle” economic structure.