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A case for Recycling Support

Have you seen the latest news on the plan of the government to remove subsidy on petrol completely? Well, I know you have seen it somewhere. I mean, petrol is a major part of our lives as Nigerians, from “I pass my neighbour” generators to Okada to Keke and our favourite Toyota cars. We basically depend on this thing.

Today I am not talking about petrol subsidy. However, my heart beats faster at the sheer thought of it since most of our operations are directly related to the oil sector. Transportation of goods from collection points to our facilities, our baling operation is totally dependent on diesel 24/7, sending the processed goods to companies. Everything we do depends on either diesel or petrol, but like we say, we MEUVE.

Now that you may partly understand my pain, you would agree with me that the recycling business needs all the support we can lay our hands on. Waste collection and recycling is already hard in itself, and now we are adding this to our pain.

This brings me to the importance of the work that The Food and Beverage Recycling Alliance (FBRA) is doing through waste bazaar, they are a life saver. With support from organizations like FBRA, we have been weathering this storm silently. One classic example of how the support from FBRA has enhanced our business was when our machine broke down. It was easy to order the damaged component on the machine and continue working, and I just imagine sometimes if this support was not available, how we would have scaled through after coming out of the COVID period with so many struggles.

This has helped us transition well by increasing our capacity. This means more plastics are taken off the environment and more jobs created for the underserved part of our population.

There are more instances that this support has helped our business weather the storm, but let me just stop here. What is my point in all of this? As subsidy is being removed from a critical part of our business, it is important that we are able to get support to continue the work we do as employers of labour and as a critical sector in the fight against pollution.

“Make I tell wetin Happen for Abule”

It’s been such a long time since I have been away from here. As I begin to write this, Patoranking’s song “Abule” keeps playing in my head, and this is understandable because “I wan tell you wetin my eye see for Lagos, Ibadan and Osogbo.” In the last 4 weeks, I was in the South-western region of Nigeria. Now I am from this region, but as someone who grew up in Northern Nigeria, travelling to the West always seems like travelling abroad. This trip was in itself an interesting one, from being part of a research team on WASH, to participating in sustainable courses and some small flexing, I couldn’t help but notice the state of waste management everywhere I turned.

plastic bag on the beach

I spent most of my time within Ido community of Oyo state, I must say, it’s a massive place. Anyways life was going on well, until I decided to go out one evening for a walk. You can guess already, the volume of waste within this community is mind-boggling. To give you some context about this community, it is a mixture of semi-urban and rural communities, and I expected that they would probably have more bio-degradable waste. Ohh!! How wrong I was! The sheer amount of plastic waste in the drainages was eating me up.

I quickly noticed that some major contributing factors to plastic pollution in this community are the lack of waste collection facilities, attitude of the residents to waste management and overconsumption of plastic-packaged beverages, most especially in parties. The latter is a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs. This list is not exhaustive, but in my opinion, they are major determining factors. As I traversed the three States I visited, I realised this was replicated in each, irrespective of the size of the community, and this was the case almost everywhere in Nigeria.

What’s my conclusion in all of these? Nothing will change if we don’t change and maintain that change. One community may be rural today, but today’s choices would translate to what happens tomorrow. A dirty urban community didn’t become dirty overnight. It simply adopted the systems from its rural form, and I like to see it as the butterfly effect. If we are to see a change in our waste management systems, we must go back to the building blocks of our communities and start effecting change there. From the streets to the Wards, LCDAs and LGAs, lasting change must begin from the grassroots.

THE FOOT SOLDIERS OF WASTE MANAGEMENT

Have you ever seen our foot soldiers? You may be wondering, “what is Oga Trash Monger talking about this time around.” well, think deeply. If your mind is trying to picture a tall, built, and sturdy fellow in a uniform carrying a machine gun, I will save you the stress. Just follow my description.

Think about an 18 year old lad from Zamfara. He is probably the first boy of a family of eight, growing up to know only about subsistence farming that will provide just enough to take care of the family (food and shelter). He has no formal education and probably doesn’t even have the Arabic education some of his peers had access to. Now, I know you probably think that this description is anything but that of a soldier.

Well, you are right, but not entirely so. Now, bring back the image of the young boy to mind, and imagine that the young boy I just described removes an average of 1000kg of plastics from the environment monthly. Multiply this number by 500 young boys doing the same thing, and there you have our foot soldiers. I know I have talked a lot about boys. Yes, women also are part of this vast network of foot soldiers, many of whom support their families by collecting waste.

Our foot soldiers don’t carry guns; they carry sacks. They don’t steal, rather they earn a decent living that enables them to carter for their immediate families and, in many cases, their extended families. Our foot soldiers have dreams and aspirations, maybe not to become teachers or lawyers, but they aspire to grow through the ranks to become employers of labour creating opportunities from waste.

I am optimistic that we can find a way to formalise the activities of these guys to get optimum benefits from their activities. So, the next time you see the so-called “baban bola”, remember they are the foot soldiers of environmental sustainability in Nigeria.

A case for Collection Part 2

Just a bit of context, after China banned importation of waste some years ago under their national sword program and yes they got the name right, it was a sword because it went through the heart and soul of the recycling and waste management sector from America to Europe to Africa just name it, the Chinese sword cut through everyone.

After some healing, local manufacturers within countries started springing up and countries in Europe began to focus on recycling especially plastics recycling. Now this is tricky, while the Chinese ban seems like the obvious reason, there may be other more interesting reasons like the cost of Recycled Plastics, recent commitments by multinationals to reduce the volume of virgin materials in their products, the list goes on.

Back to the matter, why so much demand? Most of the recycling of PET happening in Nigeria focuses on processing post-consumer PET into flakes and exporting to companies, mostly in Europe. And I actually find this disturbing because there are no actual investments in the sector.

Yes, Nigeria generates a lot of waste and high-quality waste at that, since most of our plastics are from virgin resins.

Let’s do some calculations; according to the World Bank–What a Waste Report, every person in low-middle income countries such as ours generates approximately 0.8kg of waste daily. Assume that we are actually 200 million people in the country, that’s about 160 million kg of waste daily. Say just 20 percent of those are plastics, we would have approximately 30 million kg of Plastic waste generated daily.  With 30 plastic bottles equating to 1kg, that’s enough bottles to fill over a 100 standard football fields from my rough calculations.

However, general waste collection in Nigeria is hard and recycling collection is even harder. Many of us who have tried only recycling collection have been burnt and I think this is why there is more focus on processing- “a case of nobody wan die but everybody wan go heaven”. You want clean, washed and processed recyclables but you don’t want to invest in how those recyclables are collected post-consumption. 

I am not arguing against more investment in the recycling processing side of the spectrum, because I understand the need to build factories to process the recyclables that I enjoy retrieving from the environment. But, we are seeing a skewed investment towards processing and this only creates more fully-equipped factories with not feed to work with.

An effective recycling collection system is the foundation of any successful recycling programme and so more investment should flow towards this pivotal space.

A Case for Waste Collection

It’s a cold Monday morning, waking up to enjoy the life I have chosen as a waste recycler and social entrepreneur or so I thought. Phone rings( just play that classic Nokia tune in your head;  yes that one), oh this has got to be a good day, whenever this person calls it’s for business. After exchanging pleasantries, “Femi, do you have a contact for 100Tons of PET flakes”, my engineering maths skills kicked in, ahhh 100tons!!!!!, I have hit the jackpot. I assured this person I would source for it, while brainstorming on who can give me 100tons of PET flakes within one month, a message comes in “Hi Femi, I need 50 Tons of PET flakes cold washed” wait what is happening exactly? could this be a coincidence?

PET Scrap

In the space of 3 days, I had received over 5 different offers for PET flakes that I began to think “Abi  PET flakes Is the cure for COVID 19 or probably there’s a PET apocalypse”. I began looking in drainages, waterways, and illegal dumpsites, all the while thinking there shouldn’t be a single PET bottle here, but there they were some shining in their newness while others beaten to sheets by passing vehicles, all staring at me like “Oga we still dey here oo, Naso we see am too”.

So, why is there is a sudden demand for Recycled PET, while our dumpsites, pathways and drainages are still filled with plastics but we are still being offered annoyingly LOW prices from buyers, I will be providing some answers in my next post.

Written by:

Owoeye Femi Emmanuel