Lost in Waste:
Lagos’ new recycling methods
If there is one thing the megacity Lagos has more than enough of, it is rubbish. Mountains of garbage, to be more accurate, for the city produces ten-thousand tons of waste each and every single day. New creative waste management methods are uregently needed. The latest in the project treasure chest is “Wecyclers”, a fleet of cyclists with specially designed bicycles (wecycles) that act as mobile recycling collection centres. Read More
If there is one thing the megacity Lagos has more than enough of, it is rubbish.
Mountains of garbage, to be more accurate, for the city produces ten-thousand tons of waste each and every single day. This presents a huge challenge the existing waste management system is simply unable to meet. The Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) has partnered with numerous private organisations to find new creative waste management methods.
The latest in the project treasure chest is “Wecyclers”, a fleet of cyclists with specially designed bicycles (wecycles) that act as mobile recycling collection centres. The wecycles can navigate the narrow and uneven streets of low-income communities. Wecyclers inform the people in these communities about recycling and encourage them to recycle their household waste.
When cyclists come knocking at peoples’ doors to pick up recyclables, the households are rewarded with redeemable points based on the volume and quality of recyclables they provide. At present, there are 29 wecycles in action, serving close to 5,000 households in two neighbourhoods in Lagos.
Wecyclers is the brainchild of Bilikiss Adebiyi. Born and raised in Nigeria, she came up with this idea while studying at the MIT Sloan School of Management. We asked her what it's all about.
Can you explain how “Wecyclers” works? What exactly happens from the moment I toss a plastic bottle in the dustbin, when a Wecycler comes to my door to the point when the bottle becomes a new product?
We encourage our subscribers to separate their recyclables (plastic bottles, cans and packaging). We come to collect the recyclables and weigh them in the presence of our subscribers; this is done to ensure the transparency of the process. After the daily collection rounds, we carry out basic processing like colour sorting and bagging, then sell the sorted recyclables to recyclers who take the materials through the full recycling process right up to the production of new products. Currently in Nigeria, plastic bottles are either shredded and exported or processed into fibre, which is then used in mattresses and pillows.
Our mission is to help people who earn less than $2 per day toward improved livelihoods.
Is that the best thing that can be made out of plastic bottles – mattresses and pillows?
There is a huge gap in the recycled bottle value chain in Nigeria. We would like to see more value retained in Nigeria and would consider ourselves successful if clothing or even new bottles were made from recycled bottles.
Why did you think it was time to introduce Wecyclers to the Lagos environment?
Managing waste should not be left up to the government alone. We have discovered that over 70% of municipal solid waste can be subjected to further treatment such as composting and anaerobic digestion, and about 18% is recyclable. Apart from the usefulness of recycling, for environmental sustainability and collective well-being, it is imperative that we to instil the idea of proper waste disposal practices to keep recyclables from clogging drainage systems, for example. This will ensure that water in the system flows more freely and lead to a cleaner environment and good health for everyone.
Why does Wecyclers focus solely on low-income communities?
Our mission is to help propel people from the base of the pyramid – people who earn less than $2 per day – toward improved livelihoods. According to the Bank of Industry, 120 million Nigerians live on less than $2 a day. This means that a little over 70% of Nigerians have no bank account, and lack access to water and sanitation and basic healthcare.
But don’t these poor people have bigger problems than waste collection? I imagine they might not care too much about segregating plastic while they are struggling to get enough food and water.
With a population of 170 million people, waste abounds in Nigeria. But waste is a renewable, replenishable resource. Wecycling offers people a way to look forward to receiving a benefit from their waste. This could be in the form of a household item like a blender that they have always needed but might not have been able to buy just yet, or a sack of rice that would tide their families over for some months. By wecycling, households can use their waste to store value. We hope that the economic benefit of wecycling and the resultant benefits from increased productivity due to less flooding and illness will get them started on their path to wealth.
Has it been hard to convince people to recycle?
Convincing people to change their behaviour is quite difficult. We are tackling this by offering incentives. We have gotten a lot of positive responses to our redeemable point system. People may not necessarily know what recycling is or even want to recycle, but they want the reward. If you can provide them with something they value, they will recycle. We hope that as they recycle, it becomes a part of their routine – almost like a habit – and that they will then see the inherent benefits of a cleaner environment, less flooding and better health.
What makes you different from other waste management companies?
First and foremost, we are a young company filled with young, energetic people who are eager to change the world. We are essentially using the environment to drive social change. This enables us to approach waste management differently and gives us an edge.
You have partnered with LAWMA, Lagos Waste Management Authority, to provide a convenient collection system for recyclable materials. How can the public sector work with the private sector to manage waste and provide infrastructure?
I think we should see the government as an enabler of private sector participation. There is an opportunity for civic engagement and private sector involvement. I believe once there is full cooperation with government policy and active and thriving entrepreneurial activities in the waste sector, all barriers to waste management policy will be eliminated.
We are a young company filled with young, energetic people who are eager to change the world.
In your experience, what are the best ways of not wasting waste?
Incentive-based instead of tax-based waste management should be encouraged and kerbside collection should be introduced instead of general waste collection. Furthermore, educating the populace and creating massive awareness about waste management is crucial. The link between the environment and health needs to be better explained if the desired level of environmental consciousness is to be achieved.
What do you think will be considered waste in 2020?
Anything from which value can no longer be captured.