Taylor Reilly-Smith, an International Development and Anthropology student at Trent University, is currently participating in the Trent-in-Ghana Program (TIG) and working with Mckingtorch Africa, a social enterprise that focuses on recycling and repurposing plastic waste in Ghana.
Mckingtorch Africa's work helps reduce the amount of plastic waste in Ghanaian landfills. The material they collect from landfills is recycled into artwork, raw materials for the plastic industry, and newly fabricated products like park benches, vertical gardens, and even a fully functional and solar-powered bus shelter. Through victories like these, Mckingtorch Africa is making a big impact on sustainability in Ghana.
Before his placement, Taylor shared that he did not have a strong passion for the environmental sustainability sector. However, being able to see first-hand how Mckingtorch Africa can repurpose plastic waste into beautiful and useful products has changed his perspective.
"It has certainly changed my perspective on what I consider recyclable plastic," said Taylor. "Plastic waste is often viewed as a 'necessary evil,' but Mckingtorch Africa has proven it can be recycled and repurposed efficiently just like metals can."
Expanding minds and learning to adapt
Through his work with Mckingtorch Africa, Taylor has learned many lessons, including the many ways plastic can be repurposed and the inner workings of a circular economy—where economic value is preserved through re-use, sharing, and repair. He has also learned the importance of being adaptable, patient, and persistent.
“My advice to Trent students who come to Ghana would be to live in the moment. While the TIG program can be academically intensive at times, it is important to get out and explore as much as possible, because it truly is a unique country with rich cultures. While eight months may seem like a long time, it goes by fast!
“My advice for students who wish to work with Mckingtorch Africa is to be flexible and understanding. You may not have the structure you are used to with other jobs, but this can be a chance to grow as a person and expand your skill set both personally and professionally.”
Taylor's work with Mckingtorch Africa is an example of the impact individuals can have on larger sustainability goals. By working with a social enterprise that repurposes plastic waste, Taylor is doing his part to reduce landfill waste and create a more sustainable future while preparing himself for a career and life after Trent.
“Ghana is an amazing country that will welcome you with open arms,” said Taylor. “Students will learn a lot from Ghana, and the TIG program is one you will leave as a new person.”