- Apr 02, 2018
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Making Money from Recycling in Nigeria
Most Nigerians are ignorant of the fact that Garbage and rubbish thrown out of the homes after use are great assets as most of them are recyclable items. Different items like Aluminum, PET Plastic Bottles, Newspaper, Corrugated Cardboard, Steel cans, HDPE plastic bottles, Glass containers, Magazines, Mixed paper, Computers are easily thrown off into garbage hills. These items can be recycled regardless of how bad it had been wrecked or damaged.
There are chemicals used for purifying and cleaning these items to keep them free from bacteria and other harmful elements which can make it health hazards. A Lagos woman has taken advantage of the population and goes after the trashed items.
She has a well-organized cycle of pickup, drop off and recycle chain management staffs. The money she makes from this job is really amazing. She gave an insight into how she runs the process during an interview with the Guardian.
According to an interview by The Guardian, Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola, a born-and-raised Lagosian, has a plan to reconnect citizens to the megacity by linking them to out-of-reach municipal services, while also building a network through which community resilience can flourish.
Having moved to the US to further her education, Bilikiss frequently returned to Nigeria to visit family during her time off. “Going home, I noticed such a stark contrast in quality of life,” she tells me over Skype. “I was really awoken by this”. While enrolled on the MBA programme at MIT, Bilikiss submitted the bones of what is now her business as a one page assignment. But after discussing the idea with classmates, she felt that she was on to something, and that something turned out to be a necessity for people living in low-income areas of her hometown.
The student project quickly evolved to become Wecyclers, a social enterprise that works with low-income households using an incentive-based model to tackle the city’s widespread waste problems. Here’s how it works: households sign up to the service and separate their recyclable items ahead of a weekly collection by the Wecyclers team, who zip around the city on a fleet of cargo-bikes. Participating households receive points for every kilogram recycled, which can be redeemed for electronics, household items, training classes and even money. In turn, the waste is then sold to recycling plants who shred it to make products such as mattress and pillow stuffing.
“Waste is currently a big problem for people living in poor conditions, but I want to turn it into a solution,” Bilikiss says. The city’s waste collection system currently requires citizens to pay a fee for the service based on the size of their home – a charge that many are unable to afford, and so rubbish is left on the streets or burned. “Even when people do want trash collected, the road network is too challenging,” she explains. “People park, double park, even triple park. It’s impossible for vehicles to get to it.”
As a result, only 40% of the city’s waste is collected and only 13% is recycled each year. The rest of it sits on the streets, increasing the spread of diseases and clogging up drains which can lead to flooding. But, simultaneously, recycling plants in Lagos lack an adequate supply of recyclable materials for processing. Bilikiss is providing the missing link.
“It’s literally money just lying in the streets”: she estimates that metal and plastic waste in Lagos is worth around $700mn. By deploying a fleet of low-cost, environmentally friendly bikes into the narrow streets and alleys of the city’s slum neighbourhoods, Wecyclers can reach the rubbish that the municipal waste collectors are unable to get to.
Since launching two years ago, Wecyclers has employed over 80 Lagosians, from cargo-bike collectors to waste sorters, who have cleared over 525 tons of waste from the streets and connected over 6,500 households to the service. “Now, we’ve noticed that we’ve stopped actively reaching out to households to register people as more and more are coming directly to us. They want to be part of the movement,” Bilikiss says. “People see their friends getting rewards for clearing up, and they want the same thing. The incentive is there and people are really keen to do it.”
But Bilikiss has much grander plans. She proudly tells me that her model could potentially create 500,000 direct and indirect jobs across the country. “But to start with, I’d like to have at least 1 million homes signed up in Lagos.” The initial funding of the project has come from bootstrapping, and now the organisation is gaining international recognition for their work in Lagos. DHL donated a van last year, Unilever have provided sponsorship for Wecyclers to collect their packaging, and the project recently won $55,000 through the Pitch for Lagos start-up event. This will enable Bilikiss to expand the enterprise’s reach into other parts of Lagos, across Nigeria and then the continent – her “ultimate dream”.