Eco-jogging: when Africa combines sport and the environment

dSunday morning in Lome. It is 6:30 a.m. as a crowd of some 250 people, made up of youths, children and adults, all with a large black plastic bag and a walking stick for cleaning up plastic waste, wait for the race to kick off. It is Felix Tagba at the head of this movement who gives it at 7 o’clock sharp. The participants in unison record their battle cry: “Eco jogging, let’s run and save the planet!” After three hours and a run of 3.6 km, they managed to collect 150 kg of plastic waste. Eco-jogging, implemented in January 2017 in Lomé, consists of jogging while collecting waste, especially plastic bags, which will be recycled later. “Running or walking contributes to good human health and at the same time we protect the environment because, for example, a single piece of plastic waste can last more than 400 years in nature before it breaks down. This waste is sometimes the cause of flooding and other things. So we are doing good for our bodies and our environment,” confides Félix Tagba, the creator of this eco-jogging concept.

Beyond the concept, an environmental movement

In Togo, the movement brings together about 1,000 members in the 5 regions of the country. According to official figures, Lomé, the Togolese capital, produces nearly 62,600 tons of plastic waste every year, which is mostly thrown into the environment, making the city unsanitary. “We launched this movement because we noticed that there is more and more waste in nature, and besides, people don’t exercise,” says Félix Tagba.

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Since its launch in January 2017, the initiative has collected more than 15 tons of plastic waste. These, which are collected in the street after the eco jogging sessions, are not burned. They are taken to recycling companies for processing. “We don’t throw away the waste that we collect. We give them another life. We use part of it to make big bags in which we collect the waste and another part goes to the recycling structures that transform it,” says Félix Tagba. “We are also social because sometimes we give this waste to prisoners and good ladies because it helps them find something to live on,” he added.

Today, the movement has managed to forge partnerships with structures specializing in the recycling of plastic waste in the African countries where it is based. Indeed, for eco-joggers, the most important thing is not collecting the tons of plastic waste that litter the arteries of cities, but knowing how to bring them back to life through recycling. Some associations working in the field of plastics recycling in the Togolese capital buy this waste at 75 CFA francs per kilogram. A great initiative, thinks Félix Tagba, who believes that “waste has now become a source of wealth”.

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The core of the measures taken is the recycling of waste

The collected waste follows a proven process before being transformed. These are sorted and classified by category before being transported to industrial units to create reusable objects. “Recycling within our unit called GIP produces three by-products: shredded material, granulate and plastic cobblestones. That is why we use these plastics that we have collected during eco-jogging awareness activities.

These emerging products are of interest to manufacturers who are reusing this kind of plastic that has become plastic objects, especially PVC pipes, buckets, basins, chairs, tables, etc. », explains Gado Bemah, president of the NGO African Science and Technology for Sustainable Development (City). “The end product will mainly give construction materials and cobblestones that are used to cover roads, sidewalks, but also to create green spaces at the level of the municipalities,” he underlined.

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Eco jogging enjoys strong approval

Launched on social networks five years ago, the call for this movement received popular support in Togo. Several personalities occasionally join the initiative. “We have not been fortunate enough to have initiatives of this magnitude in the past. Now that we have it, we have the opportunity to support it simply through our presence. So we don’t hesitate so that future generations can follow in our footsteps and in turn give our city, and why not the whole world, a clean space,” said Toba Tanama, former director of information and communication of the Togolese presidency.

For Togolese parliamentarian Ameganvi Kodjo Tsitsopé it is important to “raise awareness of environmental protection while doing physical activity to stay in shape. A healthy body in a healthy environment is what motivates us to participate in eco jogging,” he says.

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Plastic, this intimate enemy…

At the fifth session of the United Nations General Assembly for the Environment on February 28, 2022 in Nairobi, Kenya, UNEA-5 President Espen Barth Eide indicated that plastic pollution has become a veritable epidemic. Paradoxically, plastics are among the most durable products humans have made. And yet it is often thrown away. “Plastic is a product that can be reused, and if we integrate it into a circular economy time and time again,” says Espen Barth. The Norwegian Minister of Climate and Environment is also “convinced that the time has come to adopt a legally binding treaty to end plastic pollution”.

… that hits Africa hard

Today, the African continent bears the full brunt of the harmful effects of plastic pollution, while producing only 7% of the planet’s plastic waste. Plastic waste is found in many African urban areas, clogging waterways and causing countless floods and destruction.

Some states have taken initiatives to limit the use of non-degradable plastic bags, but they have not been successful. Based on this alarming observation, community leaders do not hesitate to adhere to this new concept almost everywhere in African countries. “My main idea is to do everything possible to eliminate wild landfills. I am counting on these associations to get there and have already made the decision. We will try to do this activity at least once a month,” said Edo Guun, Mayor of the Municipality of Lacs 3, after an eco-jogging session organized in November 2021 in his place 45 kilometers from Lomé, the Togolese capital.

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What about tomorrow?

It is estimated that about 1.3 billion tons of plastic will be released into nature – both on land and in the ocean – by 2040 if there is no awareness at the level of decision-makers. Faced with the magnitude of the phenomenon, the goal of the young Félix Tagba is to cover all countries of the world and to involve the world in this movement. Indeed, a World Eco Jogging Day is celebrated every last Saturday of June. This year, the fourth edition coincides with the Eco-jogging World Cup that takes place in Burkina Faso the last week of June.

“The Eco-Jogging World Cup is a competition that brings different countries together. They will run or walk as they pick up plastic waste that will be recycled. So the country that has collected more waste will leave with a trophy,” explains Félix Tagba. The first edition took place in Lomé in 2019 and was won by a mixed team from the European Union.

The new concept that was born in Togo and that combines sport and environmental protection is now emerging. It is practiced by about 6,000 eco-joggers in 18 countries around the world, 14 of which are on the continent. This enthusiasm it generates in Africa illustrates the clear will of the new African generation to combat the proliferation of plastic waste. Some practitioners are already hoping that this concept will become a sporting discipline in its own right in the coming years on the African continent.

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