Originally published in KAFTAN Post, October 21, 2020 by Kristi Pelzel
Many parts of Nigeria are polarized by the #endsars movement, demanding more government accountability alongside ending police brutality.
These events have re-highlighted old, unresolved issues from political corruption, foreign competition to compete beside small locally owned businesses in the country, to the policies and infrastructures that have stalled growth.
The waste and recycling industry, for example, is not going away and has massive potential for citizens all over the country to jump into with the right support. Why then haven’t more people turned to this industry to climb out of poverty. The answer centers around the lack of small business lending, consistent electricity to support the infrastructure required to launch processing factories, and agreements allowing foreign organizations to take Nigeria’s waste through the final stages of processing requiring skills and special facilities.
The Recycling and Reuse Industry
The international economy of waste isn’t a glamorous business, but it’s big business with untapped opportunities for those ready to organize around it. One indicator is the number of foreign enterprises investing in Nigeria’s waste, and another is the large readily available supply of different types of waste all around the country.
The industries connected to the waste and recycling economy are collecting, processing, reusing, remanufacturing, and sales. The recycling and reuse industry is involved in metals, paper, plastics, glass, organic materials, computers and electronics, tires, and other post-consumer and post-industrial scrap.
In the book Make, Think, Imagine by John Browne, he explains why the readers should be “zooming in” on their everyday experiences, looking for very small things with very large potential. Once you see the things around you with a new lens of active-observation, find a problem, and connect it to personal motivation. If you’re in Nigeria now, look around and start finding platforms to use alongside your current arguments for a post-protest opportunity-focused future.
The Business Opportunity
WestAfricaENRG, a UK-based company with Nigeria-based plant, processes and sorts 1-million kg of waste. They also employ 3,000 people, 70% of who are women. This is one company reducing waste in the country and creating jobs, but it’s a foreign-driven effort that’s found profit in Nigeria’s waste, and it’s only a small solution to the mounting problem.
Once the waste processes in another country, it’s sold back to Nigeria in the form of imported, pre-packed products used and then tossed into the waste once again.
The World Economic Forum stated this year that the circular waste business is worth over 4.5 trillion dollars, and Nigeria generates about 60 million tonnes of unsorted waste every year.
Chanja Datti, one of the few Nigerian-owned businesses, an Abuja-based recycling company, buys waste from local waste pickers, provides collection services, and recycles plastic waste into semi-processed raw materials. As the CEO of Chanja Datti, Olufunto Boroffice, says when highlighting the competitive nature of the waste business, “Chinese companies are coming into the country, and then we have a few of our local competitors including Wecyclers, RecyclePoints, and Vicfold Recyclers.”
If there is value in Nigerian waste, apparent by companies from the UK and China, why aren’t more Nigerian’s motivated to get into this business? Why aren’t more government policies in place to support local-waste collection, local-small business loans, and processing, and locally-owned plants turning PET waste into synthetic fibre instead of shipping processed waste away?
Why are Chinese companies partnering with the larger Nigerian-owned recycling companies, and how can they operate in the country, offering local collectors and small-businesses barely enough to cover the cost of labor and materials, and yet the central problem of waste and waste all over the country remains?
Transparently looking at these opportunities and openly discussing the roadblocks for more Nigerians to get into the business is a conversation worth having when it’s reported that 40% of the population is below the poverty line.
The Call for Faster Reform
According to the International Labour Organisation, up to 100,000 people work in Nigeria’s informal e-waste recycling sector. These are people without proper masks, gloves, and hazardous materials training to complete their jobs safely.
Nigeria’s infrastructure is lacking due to the intermittent supply of electricity required to move materials up the manufacturing chain. The more complex processing involves skills, proper training, plants, and electricity.
Financing requires change at the government policy level. The government needs to see this as a viable industry and one that can sustain end-to-end processes in the country.
With the waste piling up around the country and some people becoming comfortable with the lack of waste and recycling industry in place, it’s challenging to get people to change their behavior. Citizen support for the local pickers and processes by which the country can capitalize on this industry is critical.
Foreign organizations operate under the laws and protections set in place, the contracts agreed upon by the government. When you see a Nigerian who is CEO or “owner” of a waste or reuse business, look closer. Some companies are only partly owned by Nigerians. Companies that seem to be operating as Nigerian, like Recyclan, are UK-based companies with a Nigerian operation.
Partnering and Growing
Individuals cannot succeed in isolation. Even the few small companies that are 100% Nigerian-owned rely on partnerships with the larger companies to sell products up the distribution chain.
Until there is major reform in place to launch an end-to-end industry, foreign companies can help by looking at ways to integrate more people into the waste management business. Local city, state, regional, and federal representatives can help by negotiating these terms while launching local programs that start connecting people to opportunity to naira in their pockets.
While Nigerians all over the world look for transparency in government policy and spending, they should look to industries that need reform and move people’s passion away from the streets and into opportunities that will show economic progress that people see and feel.