Lagos, Nigeria’s biggest city, has a population of about 20 million and produces over 10,000 tonnes of waste everyday. Much of the waste ends up on the streets or floats in open sewage systems. Forty percent of the city’s waste is collected and transported to colossal dumps, where people sift through it for scrap other things to sell. However, a new scheme, which aims to alter people’s point of view towards rubbish and their environment, will provide material incentive to recycle plastic bags, plastic bottles and tin cans.
“Wecyclers” was conceptualised by Bilikiss Adebiyi, who had the idea while going to university in the United States for her Masters in Business Administration. Says Adebiyi, ”People die from flooding because we are clogging our drainage. Adebiyi is an MIT Sloan School of Management graduate as well as a former IBM software engineer. “The chemicals from the plastic leach into the soil because people just dump it indiscriminately, they don’t understand that they need to dispose of the waste properly,” she explained. “It impacts their health, it impacts their livelihood, productivity.”
Eighteen months ago, ”Wecyclers” was created with the support of the Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) which is responsible for collecting waste within the city. ‘Wecyclers’ also has a few other sponsors backing the project. As of right now, ‘Wecyclers’ has collected just under 200 tonnes of waste from 5,000 households. The project uses bicycles specially modified to carry large cloth bags for recyclable items.
The benefits of these colourful “wecycles” verses the large dustcarts which collect roadside waste is that they can manoeuvre down the narrowest and furrowed streets. The workers go door-to-door collecting and weighing the waste products. A benefit for customers is that every kilogram of recycling they give transfers into points allowing clients to collect and trade their points for prizes. Adebiyi continues, ”Recycling is not common. There’s very low awareness. People don’t even know what recycling is. It’s one of the reasons why we used the incentive system, when people actually can earn points and get something valuable from their points.”
Prizes include basic foodstuffs, kitchen electrical equipment, mobile phone credits or even money. One user was able to buy himself an electric generator, which may not seem important but in Nigeria, daily power cuts are common.
“The incentive was a way to get the conversation started. Let them get excited about recycling because of what they’re going to be able to get from it. But then, as they’re recycling, then they see the other benefits, from the cleanliness, the reduction of flooding, reduction in diseases. People will now know why they should continue to recycle,” responded Adebiyi.
All the waste collected, is taken to an area on loan by the LAWMA. The recycling is then sorted and sold to recycling factories. Plastic is used to make padding for pillows and mattresses, textile fibres, rubbish sacks and even flip-flops; tin cans are used to make other aluminium products; empty sachets of drinking water are bought by companies who clean and melt them down before turning them into small plastic balls. These balls are then resold by the kilogram to factories making basins, buckets and other plastic objects.
One woman, who has started using Wecyclers last year said, “Before it (the neighbourhood) was very dirty, smelling everywhere, so dirty. But since I’m with them, everything is clean. So they normally come, with their gift and whatever…They’re good.”
Adebiyi’s recycling business has been a huge hit. Last October it won a Cartier Women’s Initiative Award, which recognises business women across the world. As of right now, Wecycle employs about 30 people but there are hopes that 100 will be employed by the end of the year. There are also plans to expand from two poor neighbourhoods to another two neighbourhoods this year. As well, expansion is expected in the federal capital Abuja and the state of Uyo, in the southeast.
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