DAKAR, Senegal – As the marathoners strained and took their place on the starting line, a man stood out, dressed the same way, head-to-toe in plastic.
A multicolored cape made entirely of plastic bags sweeps across the sandy ground. On his head he wears a hat made of plastic sunglasses.
But this man, Modou Fall, did not participate in the annual marathon held in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, every November. He’s in a different race: one to save the West African country from a plastic waste scourge that clogs its waterways, stains its white beaches and keeps blowing away. all over its streets.
With the marathon drawing large crowds and major media presence, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity that the race was featured to promote his cause.
Waving the Senegal flag and carrying a megaphone that plays songs listing the damage caused by plastic – “I like my country, I say no to plastic bags” – Mr. Fall rushes in and around people running in his long plastic cloak in the race has begun.
Those in the race who prevented him from asking for selfies fell into his well-crafted and little-used trap: He seized every opportunity to give them a lecture. gentle on environmental issues.
After the last group of runners had left the starting area, Mr. Fall and his group of volunteers began to pick up the empty water bottles and plastic bags they had left behind.
For the foreign racers and tourists the marathon brings to Dakar, this may be their first encounter with Mr. Fall, but for local residents, he is a familiar presence. belonging to the so-called “Plastic Man”.
He can often be seen dancing the streets in self-designed and ever-evolving costumes made entirely of plastic, mostly bags collected from around the city. Pinned to his chest was a sign that said NO PLASTIC BAG. It was a fight he took very seriously.
His outfit is modeled after “Kankurang” – a majestic traditional figure with deep roots in Senegalese culture who stalks sacred forests and wears a shroud of woven grass. The Kankurang is considered a protector against evil spirits, and is responsible for instilling common values.
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“I behave like Kankurang,” Mr. Fall said in a recent interview. “I am an educator, an advocate and protect the environment.”
While plastic waste poses a serious environmental problem globally, recently learn found that Senegal, despite its relatively small area, is among the world’s ocean plastic polluters. This is partly because the country struggles to manage its waste, which, like many poorer nations, and it has a large population living on the coast.
In an effort to reduce pollution rates, the Senegalese government has implemented ban some plastic products by 2020, but the country has had trouble enforcing it. Senegal, with a population of about 17 million, is is expected to produce more than 700,000 tons mismanaged plastic waste by 2025 if nothing is done, compared with about 337,000 tons in the United States.
Mr. Fall, 48, has fought against plastic waste for most of his adult life. A tall, quiet ex-soldier, he first noticed the harmful effects of plastic in 1998 during his military service. He was stationed in rural eastern Senegal, home to many herding communities, where he watched their cows fall ill after consuming the shards of plastic bags scattered across frames. arid landscape.
Breeders will slaughter their valuable animals before they inevitably die. This way, at least, their meat eating will not be forbidden by Islam.
After serving in the military, Mr. Fall sold T-shirts and lifebuoys at Dakar’s busy Sandaga market, where dozens of merchants sell a variety of goods, often packaged in plastic. Plastic bags are cheap and plentiful, and store owners will throw them on the street without knowing how bad they can be for the environment.
For months, Mr. Fall has been trying to get his fellow store owners to realize the threat to the environment from using too much plastic, and if they do, dispose of them properly. But no one listens. The market is a mess.
Depressed, one day he decided to try to set an example. He will clean up the whole market by himself.
“It took me 13 days, but I made it,” he said.
Plastic is finally back. But he has succeeded in getting some stall owners to rethink.
And stopping the rising tide of plastic became Mr. Fall’s obsession. “If it continues like this, the lives of future generations will be in jeopardy,” he said.
In 2006, Mr. Fall used his life savings, just over $500, to start his association, Senegalese Propreor Clean Senegal.
He has planted dozens of trees across the city and held community meetings to convince people to stop buying throwaway plastic. He has organized tire cleaning and recycling campaigns in Dakar’s vibrant neighborhoods, his scavengers dodging taxi drivers and street vendors as they go.
With the plastic waste they collected, Clean Senegal made bricks, paving stones and public benches. The old tires become benches that they sell for about $430 a piece — money for more environmental efforts like planting trees in schools.
Other street vendors began to realize what he was doing and joined in.
Cheikh Seck, 31, a sunglasses and watch seller in Pikine, on the outskirts of his hometown of Dakar, said: ‘I often throw plastic bags or cups on the street after using them because I’m not aware of the dangers they pose. can cause. “Plastic waste is a global concern and I am happy to contribute to the fight that Modou has started.”
Plastic waste clogging the waters off Dakar has damaged fishing supplies, further reducing the income of Senegalese fishermen already struggling with their waters being overfished. Maybe also plastic contaminated agricultural land.
Mr. Fall’s message seems to be gaining traction. At the marathon in November, the third one he’s completed, several runners now know his favorite tagline and shout at him as they pass: “No trash! plastic!”
After most of the marathon, Mr. Fall and a group of 10 young volunteers dressed in green shirts and gloves took to the streets for their cleanup.
They pick up water bottles outside Dakar .’s pioneer house Museum of Black Civilizations, which houses one of Africa’s largest art collections. They collected hundreds of plastic bags on the leafy campus of Cheikh Anta Diop University. They found the plastic cups in the bustling city center, known as the Highlands, which is home to the presidential palace and many embassies.
One of the neighborhoods they passed through was Medina, built by the French during the colonial era, and where Mr. Fall was born. After his father died when he was four years old, Fall’s mother moved the family to the suburbs. As a single mother, she struggled to make ends meet with a restaurant business, and Mr. Fall had to drop out of school after only six years of elementary school to support the family by working in metalworking and painting. home. After his mother died, he joined the army.
In the mid-afternoon of marathon day, Mr. Fall and his team were stumbling under the weight of the plastic they had collected. A truck came and they delivered hundreds of plastic bottles.
The team took a break for lunch. But not Mr. Fall. He remained focused on his mission. Five miles to go along the track, and he set off, the plastic cloak dangling around him.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/20/world/africa/modou-fall-senegal.html This ‘Plastic Man’ Has a Robe and a Superhero Mission: Clean up Senegal