Meet Cameroon’s ‘plastic man’: The story of environmental activist Forbi Perise

Meet Cameroon’s ‘plastic man’: The story of environmental activist Forbi Perise

(Photo courtesy of Forbi Perise)

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Forbi Perise recalls that when he saw the ocean for the first time, he was terrified.

“I was young,” Perise remembered. “The noises, the movements, the fastness of the waves — all scared me.”

At the time, Perise never would have imagined that he’d dedicate his life to protecting the ocean. A decade later, Perise is now inspiring a movement in his hometown of Buea, Cameroon, to combat plastic pollution and protect the ocean.

Growing up, Perise noticed that his hometown had a lot of problems with plastic waste.

“I saw plastic pollution everywhere,” Perise said.

Plastic pollution is an issue prevalent all throughout Cameroon, since Cameroon as a whole has a poor waste management system, Perise says. Because his area lacks strong waste management, Perise observes massive piles of plastic in his neighbors’ yards, on the side of the road, and even clogging waterways. 

Wanting to make a change, Perise’s first move was one that seemed daunting for a single person, but perhaps also the most practical: picking up the plastic waste in his community. Perise hopped door to door in his community, collecting thousands of plastic bottles from the streets.

Perise sends most of this plastic to his local plastic collection agency. In more recent years, though, he’s found more creative ways to repurpose the thousands of bottles he collects. Through the Parallel Projects, last year Perise brought 3,000 plastic bottles to Douala, Cameroon, to help construct an EcoBoat with the nonprofit Madiba and Nature. Mabida specializes in repurposing plastic bottles to create usable boats, donating them to local fishermen.

(Photo courtesy of Forbi Perise)

Perise’s plastic collection efforts have not gone unnoticed in his community, and locals even call him the “Plastic Man.” Perise’s goal is not just to collect plastic in his community, but also to educate his community on plastic pollution and build a mass movement to improve Cameroon’s waste practices. For the past few years, Perise has visited local schools to deliver presentations on plastic pollution and ocean conservation.

Perise finds that education is a key link to making change in his community. 

“Raise awareness in the communities, then they will want to put pressure on the governments,” Perise said.

Through education, Perise has developed a mass movement of locals who want to see better waste management practices in their community. They understand that recycling and consuming less plastic are only small portions of the solution, as there needs to be structural changes made by governments as well.

“The plastic pollution crisis in Cameroon is far from just a lot of people consuming plastic,” Perise emphasized.

Unexpectedly, Perise’s audience has reached far beyond his local town of Buea. Several of Perise’s photos of plastic pollution in Cameroon have blown up on social media. Perise believes that only minimal attention has been given to Cameroon’s plastic pollution because photos of the crisis have not reached the Internet. Perise is vocal on social media about the environmental issues that his country faces, in hopes to draw more attention to Cameroon and to inspire other young people to start similar movements in their communities.

Perise is an active member of the environmental nonprofits Greening Forward and ThinkOcean, two organizations that seek to foster a movement of youth from around the world who are passionate about the environment. (In full disclosure, Perise is also a friend and colleague of the author in the organization ThinkOcean.) Perise’s story has become so inspiring that for the UN World Oceans Day event this year, Perise presented as a keynote speaker alongside some of the world’s most famous environmentalists like Bill McKibben and Jean-Michel Cousteau.

Despite the global recognition and opportunities he recently has received, Perise knows he wants to stick to environmental advocacy in Cameroon in the long run. His goal in the future is to work more directly with the Cameroonian government to ensure the structural changes in environmental and waste management that his country needs, such as creating more plastic recycling facilities and banning plastic packaging.

(Photo courtesy of Forbi Perise)

Until then, Perise plans to further expand his local grassroots movement against plastic pollution, in addition to inspiring young leaders around the world to the same.

Perise’s rule-of-thumb is this: “If you’re passionate about something, connect with like-minded people around you.”

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