Courtesy of Ayeah Leonette
Ayeah Leonette is a singer and single mother saving the planet, one car tire at a time
Ayeah Leonette is one of thousands of single mothers in Cameroon. And she is one of tens of thousands of artists seeking to make a break with their music. But she is not your ordinary single mother and she is not your ordinary singer. She is a recycler who turns old car tires into useful products.
Leonette first recycled car tires in April 2020 as she sought to make a living for herself and her son. Her first ever product was a set of chairs for her brother.
Looking back on it today, she says the support from her brother created an impact that remains visible in her life to date. “Back then, he too was not ready to get a big furniture, but he was ready to make some sacrifices. So he gave me his money so I could use it to try,” she explains.
She adds that the piece was “just a fancy thing” which spurred her on to try many more times before finally getting it right.
“Each time I failed, I realized that I learned something new,” she attests.
From car tires to chic chairs
With a wealth of experience firmly tucked under her belt today, Leonette can now trace the process in a few simple steps. She uses a simple but effective process to recycle the tires. She cuts them into pieces, washes them, dries them, and shapes them into different forms using glue, nails, and wires. She then embellishes them with bright colored pieces of cloth to make them more attractive. Her clientele is limitless. As she jokingly puts it, every human needs a seat.
According to a study by Pieter Jan Kole at The Open University of The Netherlands, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, tires account for as much as 10 percent of overall microplastic waste in the world’s oceans. In countries like Cameroon with less stricter measures sanctioning the recycling and dumping of waste and tires in particular, the figures are believed to be higher.
Leonette is based in Limbe, and the challenges remain similar to those of many other seaside towns. According to a study by Din-Louis Georges, published in 2015, the municipal waste generation in Limbe is estimated at about 7,300 tonnes per year (i.e. 20 tonnes/day).
The study also found that the waste composition in Limbe varies by location, but the most common components are organic waste (40-60%), plastics (10-20%), paper (5-10%), metals (2-5%), glass (1-3%) and others (10-15%). Much of Limbe’s waste often finds itself in the ocean, causing harm to not just the sealife, but the town’s residents too. With a 28km shoreline, policing the waste dumping process is a near-impossible task for municipal authorities.
Recycling for a greener future
But Leonette is solving this puzzle, one tire after the other.
“The concept,” she explains, “is recycling used abandoned dirty tires that litter the streets. If I am working on an entire sitting room … I use eight tires.”
She confesses that the reasons for starting off a career in recycling are far different from the reason for staying in the business today. Her words: “When I started, I did not know I was doing anything for the environment. I was just doing my art which was beautiful to my eyes…” she says, half laughing.
When she got informed of the benefits, her resolve to impact society, she reveals, only got stronger. She now produces not only chairs, but many other household equipment.
“I realized that what I was doing was more serious… I said there was no turning back.” Over four years into the art, she is still going strong and with big dreams, dreams of leaving the planet better than she met it.
Leonette is one of millions of Cameroonians. But she is not just like any other. She is a warrior for the environment, creating a difference and forging the way for a better planet.