Written by Memuna Forna- Insight.

Yesterday’s Pitch Night to hear sustainable commercial solutions to Sierra Leone’s single-use plastic problem, held at the EU Delegation at Leicester Peak, highlighted the potential of the private sector in Sierra Leone to be solutions providers instead of problem causers.The event, which was a collaboration between the EU and Innovation SL, was organised within the framework of EU Climate Diplomacy Week and EU Green Week on the theme of nature and biodiversity. It followed a clean-up of Lumley Beach, on Saturday 10th October, which was organised by the EU and was a stark reminder of the extent of Sierra Leone’s plastic problem.

In his introduction Tom Vens, EU Ambassador, said: “From what we saw on the beach during Saturday’s clean-up, it is clear that the biggest problem is plastic. It requires all of us to think creatively about solutions and alternatives. That is why we are here tonight.

”The importance of identifying locally-led solutions was echoed by Francis Stevens-George, CEO of Innovation SL, who added:

“Freetown Pitch Night focuses on the circular economy, which is based on eliminating the use of finite resources and the production of waste. For this to become a reality in Sierra Leone, we need to encourage entrepreneurs to come up with solutions to our existing waste problem.”

According to the rules of pitch night, each of the three entrepreneurs had a slim five minutes to pitch their ideas. With a trip abroad, sponsored by Brussels Airlines and the EU, to allow the winning pitcher to develop their business ideas, the stakes were considerable.

The panel of business, diplomatic and public sector leaders included – EU Ambassador, Tom Vens; Irish Ambassador, Lesley Ni Bhriain; Dep German Ambassador – Patrick Dzierzon; MD of Brussels airlines, Estelle Van Eeckhout and PJ Mandewa-Cole, DSTI.

The winning pitch came from John Sawo Koroma, who has an established small business making cotton bags, rucksacks and handbags out of Africana fabric, and wanted to extend his production of reusable cotton shopping bags to replace single-use plastic bags.Despite the competitive nature of the competition, the judges emphasised that collaboration in identifying and implementing solutions, across the private sector, was essential for change to be impactful and sustainable.

Tom Vens said: “The problem of plastic waste in Sierra Leone is still small enough to be tackled, particularly if we think creatively about partnerships with the private sector. They are part of the problem, but they can also be part of the solution, as we saw here this evening.”

By Memuna Forna- Insight Magazine. There can’t be anyone who has not experienced Sierra Leone’s problem with plastic waste. Abandoned plastic bags, water sachets and bottles litter the streets. They clog gutters and drainage channels, increasing the risk of flooding in our already flood-prone country. They wash up onto the beach, deter tourists, poison our fishing stocks and threaten the environment. Our plastic waste problem disproportionately affects the health and livelihoods of poorer and more vulnerable communities. It devastates agriculture, fishing and tourism, and according to a recent report dumped and burned rubbish, especially plastic waste, is responsible for the death of one person every 30 seconds in developing countries. We are not alone. This is a continent-wide problem, and has prompted 34 countries to introduce either total or partial bans on single-use plastic, making Africa world-leaders in the fight against plastic. Many would argue that the urgency of the situation in Sierra Leone, demands a similarly urgent response, particularly because we lack functioning large-scale collection and recycling infrastructure. However, the reality is that single use plastic in Sierra Leone plays a significant role in the daily lives of much of the country’s population and without alternatives in place, a plastic ban could create other problems. Some of the considerations that could derail Sierra Leone’s attempts to reduce plastic use, include the importance of packaged sachet water as a source of drinking water, particularly in urban areas, or communities without access to clean water; the use of plastic bags as ‘flying toilets’ to dispose of human waste, in the many communities without proper sanitation facilities; the use of plastic bags to distribute and store food; and the fact we have a domestic plastic packaging industry. But these considerations are not insurmountable, and the European Union in Sierra Leone is collaborating with Innovation SL on a special Freetown Pitch Night (14th October – 5-7pm) to hear three entrepreneurs pitch commercially viable and sustainable solutions to single use plastic in Sierra Leone, which will take us several steps closer to becoming a plastic-free society. The event is organised within the framework of EU Climate Diplomacy Week and EU Green Week on the theme of nature and biodiversity. Our three entrepreneurs will be pitching to a panel of judges made up of Tom Vens – the EU Ambassador, Lesley Ní Bhriain – the Irish Ambassador, Mr Patrick Dzierzon – the Deputy German Ambassador, Estelle Van Eeckhout – the MD of Brussels Airlines in Sierra Leone and PJ Mandewa-Cole from the Department of Science, Technology and Innovation. Freetown Pitch Night – the entrepreneurs and innovators pitching event, which gives budding entrepreneurs the chance to pitch their ideas, solicit feedback, advice and potential partnerships has become the go-to platform for business innovation in Sierra Leone. Francis Stevens, CEO of Innovation SL and the organiser of Freetown Pitch Night says:
“An ecosystem that provides a platform for new and innovative ideas to be discovered and for an ecosystem enabler such as the EU to be part of this discovery process is the essence of Freetown Pitch Night.”
The winning business idea will be helped to develop their idea, with a trip abroad, sponsored by the EU and Brussels Airlines. Initiatives being pitched include: Seaweed based bottles, water sachets and bottle caps: Alhassan Sesay, founder of the Sierra Leone School Green Club (SLSGC), an environmental and agricultural organisation proposes replacing water sachets, bottles and plastic containers using a product made from seaweed, which will in turn make use of Sierra Leone’s annual seaweed invasion into a benefit. Eco-friendly grocery bags, food packaging, cups, bottles, dishes: Kisimi Kayleemasa Kamara, founder of eWoman Sierra Leone, is a Software Engineer who is replacing single use plastic bags, bottles and packaging with raffia grocery bags, banana leaves food wrappers/dishes, bamboo cups/bottles and coconut shell cups/dishes. Replacing single-use plastic bags: John Sawo-Koroma, founder of CraftyBee Fashion World produces a range of affordable fabric bags including a 100% cotton fabric shopping bag, which is durable, reusable and biodegradable and intended as a replacement to plastic bags. Watch Freetown Pitch Night – Replacement of Single Plastic Use on the 14th October (5-7pm) via Facebook Live @EUinSierraLeone or @FreetownPitchNight. By Memuna Forna- Insight Magazine.