Monday, September 19, 2011

Green Embassy: Shredded Documents Help Girls Stay in School

By Karin Rives, IPP Digital (US)

Small, everyday changes sometimes have a huge impact on the environment — and on people’s lives.

Consider the case of the shredded government documents from the United States Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, which are now recycled into affordable sanitary pads for girls and women in refugee camps. Having access to such pads helps girls attend school when they have their monthly periods, whereas before they often stayed home on those days.

The production of the pads, meanwhile, has created jobs for some 220 people, mainly refugees living in and around the camps.

Until recently, the embassy and other U.S. government agencies in Kampala burned shredded paper in a central incinerator, a practice that wasted a useful product and contributed to air pollution. Recycling opportunities are scarce in Uganda, but the embassy’s interagency Green Task Force got wind of the MakaPad project and soon had a deal with the organization that runs the sanitary pad production.

“During our April Earth Month celebration we had the MakaPad inventor and a representative from the United Nations High Commission[er] for Refugees give a presentation, and it made quite an impression on our staff,” said Danielle Tedesco, an environment officer with the U.S. Agency for International Development and co-chair of the Green Task Force. “They really hadn’t understood what a difference a small step can make in the lives of so many people.”

At the same April event, the embassy kicked off a glass recycling program that quickly took off. Six 230-liter recycling drums on the embassy grounds now fill up every month as employees bring glass from home or grab bottles they find along the way.

The small, woman-owned company just outside Kampala that picks up the glass, Bajjo, melts the glass and manufactures a variety of products that are sold in Uganda and exported abroad. More than 20 people have found employment at Bajjo, and the company is growing, Tedesco said.


The embassy in Kampala recently joined the League of Green Embassies, an initiative by the U.S. Department of State and several other government agencies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions of embassies worldwide. This step has further boosted efforts to implement embassy policies and programs that address waste streams and help staff save energy and water.

The Green Task Force is drawing new members, including a growing number of Ugandans who work at the embassy as well as employees from the U.S. Peace Corps and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

All embassy offices recently appointed “green wardens,” staffers who make sure that computer monitors, printers and lights are turned off at the end of the day and who remind colleagues to recycle empty bottles and paper. Plans are also in the works for an embassy community garden, a compost pit, a carpooling program and an energy audit.

“There is a lot of energy on the Green Task Force and, as with any team, you have the idealists who want to do somewhat advanced projects and then you have the realists who bring them down to earth and say, ‘That’s a great idea, but how can we make that a reality?’” Tedesco said. The gradual approach tends to win, she said, because budgets are very limited and it’s important to get everybody on board and engaged.

By making embassy operations more environmentally friendly, the Green Task Force wants to show the city of Kampala and their host country that Americans care. With the United States known as the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the embassy has an opportunity to lead by example, Tedesco said.

“We always talk about what we can do and what message we can send to our audience to not only educate, but also to change behavior,” she said. “We know that this is a challenge all over the world, but we want to walk the talk.”


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