In Sierra Leone there is no infrastructure for recycling. In fact, “waste management,” as we understand it in the U.S., is nearly non-existent there. In their homeland, 70% of waste is plastic and more than 50,000 plastic bags are discarded daily. It is not hard to imagine the negative impacts of such unchecked waste on human lives, wildlife, and natural vegetation. Additionally, during the rainy season, this mounting plastic waste blocks drains and causes major flooding everywhere.

Raised with an appreciation of their natural environment, the brothers Sesay refused to ignore the mass accumulation of non-biodegradable plastic bags and sought to find a remedy. In 2011, in what was a first and unusual career endeavor for two highly educated West African men, Philip and Pete Sesay began collecting and then spending all of their waking hours in their parent’s garage weaving plastic bags. Phillip and Pete are the force behind this social enterprise business to repurpose plastic bags into higher-use products which are considered things like handbags, wallets, laptop cases, binders, and more. Full Circle Africa has generated hundreds of products, created many jobs for youth, and is having an incredible positive impact on Sierra Leone’s natural environment.

Since then, the response to their endeavors has been almost immediate. Philip was awarded a scholarship from the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) to study in India to expand his entrepreneurial skills. Pete was selected to participate in the 2016 class of IREX Fellows and, luckily for Rock the Earth, he is here in Denver through early December supporting RtE’s work and learning about recycling in the west. Since starting Full Circle, Philip and Pete have been asked to consult with the Environmental Protection Agency in Sierra Leone, the Ministry of Youth Affairs, the Catholic Organization for Relief and Development Aid (CordAid), and others. Plus, Full Circle’s three most senior staff members, involved with FCA from its early stages, have all been able to go on to finish their university degrees.

While in the U.S., a few of Pete’s goals are to learn how data can inform business development, study successful social enterprise models, gain experience about public/private partnerships, and learn about hybrid (business/nonprofit) ventures. Pete also wants to study best practices in the American recycling and waste management industry to absorb information about production, sanitation, and the advantages of mechanizing upcycled products and be ready to present and implement these important techniques to benefit his country and others.